Saturday, October 29, 2005

Into The Unknown

It all began that one memorable day in the early 1970s.

John Zaffis was 16 years old and still living at home. Just as he did every other night, the young man was in his room getting ready for bed.

This time was different, however. This time, he saw it.

“I had a sighting. I looked up and there it was, right at the foot of the bed,
just shaking its head back and forth,” Zaffis says, “back and forth.
I went and got my mom and when I told her what it was doing, the way
it was shaking its head, that’s when she told me:
‘That was your grandfather.”

Before he died, Zaffis’ grandfa¬ther had a distinctive way of moving his head and it was from the young man’s description that his mother recognized the spirit visitation.
As Zaffis would soon learn, there was a reason for the visit.

“It was a few days later that my grandmother passed away. He had come to
help her cross over,” recalls Zaffis about his first brush with the
“So that’s what got me started in all this, 32 years ago, trying to understand.”

He has spent much of his life since that day investigating the paranormal.
He has studied ghosts and felt the chilly presence of poltergeists,
experienced pleasant spirits and been confronted by demons.

“Basically, we’re all very curious about this one thing —
Is there life after death?
That’s what most people want to know, to understand.
But the answers are not so cut and dry,” says Zaffis, considered one of the
foremost authorities in the field of paranormal investigations in the

Although he has learned many things, there are still big unanswered questions. He believes spirits enter the earthly plane when they are invited in
by those in the human realm, often unintentionally.

Once that door is open, Zaffis cautions, it is impossible to know whether
the entity will arrive with friendly aspirations or diabolical intentions.
It is imperative to realize, he says, that just as good and bad co-exist
in the world, the balance is similar in the realm of the paranormal —
where there is an angelic presence, there is also the demonic,
where miracles occur, there is also the flipside, rare as it is,
of human possession.

The one thing he is positive about, is that these things do exist.

“After being involved with investigations for 32 years, I can tell you that people do have com¬munication with the paranormal,” Zaffis says.

“There have been too many people that have had experiences to not believe in the realm of the paranormal,” although Zaffis concedes that his personal approach when first being called in to investigate a particular situation,
is skepticism.

“When you get involved with individuals you want to first find out whether
it is real, or is it their imagination. We go in and try to figure if there’s any activity, if there are things going on that we can get documented,” says Zaffis.

Once called in, he heads to work with his investigator’s toolbox, its contents fitted with a variety of cameras and tape recorders, flashlights, thermometers and religious items. With toolbox in hand, he sets out to document any happenings scientifically.

After so many years, he has come back with volumes of images, still pictures and videotapes depicting fog-like psychic mists engulfing homes
and trapezoid-shaped globules rising in a dark sky over graveyards.

In addition to his investigation work, Zaffis maintains a super-human
schedule of events.

He heads the Paranormal Research Institute of New England and runs the Paranormal Museum in Stratford, Conn. He recently co-authored the book “Shadows of the Dark,” and spends a considerable time on the road,
crossing the country to investigate happenings and conducting presentations
of his documented hauntings on the college lecture circuit.

Last week, he was in Schenectady talking to the New Growth Fellowship.

Zaffis is also a popular resource for the unexplained phenomenon-type TV shows. This weekend, he appeared on an American Movie Channel documentary exploring human possessions that was slotted in between full-length screenings of the second and third “Exorcist” films. And one of his most harrowing experiences — the Carmen Snedeker case in 1988 — will be airing this fall on the Discovery Channel as the documentary “A Haunting in Connecticut.”
The story has been will soon be a full-length film by Universal Studios.

Although the Snedeker case happened nearly two decades ago, it is one
that continues to resonate with Zaffis.

Snedeker had relocated from upstate New York to a new home in Connecticut that was, unbeknown to her at the time, a former funeral home. After experiencing some unusual occurrences, Zaffis was called in to investigate.

He immediately realized, he says, a high level of activity. He recalls
how one of the rooms in the home had rapidly turned frigid and became aware
of the horrid smell of rotting meat. As he followed the pungent scent up a staircase inside the home, Zaffis watched as the face of a demon
began forming from thin air.
Slowly, it began descending the staircase and coming toward him.

He left the house for a few days and three members of the clergy were
called in. Zaffis watched as they performed a ritual to cleanse the
home. He still calls it one of the most frightening experiences of his
life, remembering picture frames that shook on the walls, and the sound
of rattling plates clattering inside kitchen cabinets during the ritual.

The case had a peaceable outcome.

Today, Snedeker joins Zaffis on someof his cross-country lecture tours
to tell the story.
The presence of clergy at rituals like exorcisms may not be publicly acknowledged by the church, but Zaffis knows otherwise.

“I have been intermingling with a lot of people and with a lot of
different clergy of many faiths,” Zaffis says.
“They are Roman Catholic priests and rabbis, Buddhist monks and ministers.
You name it,” he says. “They believe in it, even though they might not speak of it.”

There are different levels of haunting activity, Zaffis offers.
They range from the mildest forms — like hearing footsteps and seeing the
lights going on and off — to more oppressive happenings that cause
disruption among family members, some of whom hear voices telling them
to do bad things. The most severe cases Zaffis says he has witnessed are
outright possessions.

“Getting involved with possession is rare, but when I come against
these things, I do not do the exorcisms myself,” he says. “I do assist
in them and I document them and, later, when the clergy is done, I work
on how to keep those ‘doors’ closed.”

Just before heading out on the lecture circuit a few weeks ago, Zaffis was asked to investigate a situation that required immediate attention.
It proved to be his most harrowing case in more than decade.

“My life is a very interesting life, and you just never know what to
expect,” he explains.

“Just before going out on the road in September, I got a call about one
young lady that just couldn’t be put off until I got back,” he says.
“I had a feeling that it would be extremely active.”

He would not identify the woman by name, nor the home, only that an exorcism was performed somewhere in Connecticut.
During the ritual, as Zaffis stood alongside members of the clergy at the woman’s bedside, he observed the woman’s possession and witnessed the demon as it came forth.
Then, shockingly, the woman began to levitate.

“It was bizarre standing behind her when she began to levitate. It took
all of us pushing her, to eventually get her back down. In my 32 years
of doing this, that was the first time I have witnessed something like that.”

The episode was filmed but, to ensure confidentially of the family
and clergy involved, Zaffis says, it will stay in his archives.

More than 30 years as a para¬normal researcher and investigator have
taught him that most people, whether willingly or unwillingly, are the
ones who grant permission for a spirit to enter their lives.

Only human beings can become possessed, Zaffis offers, not inanimate
objects. Although things like personal items and home properties can
hold energy, which are usually sent to the object by an individual.

The most common places for these energies and hauntings to occur are places
where tragic events have happened, like battlefields, or places where a
lot of people have passed through with highly charged emotions, like
churches, old theaters and hotels, according to Zaffis.

The best advice he can offer is that people use caution when getting involved with things dealing with the paranormal. As innocent as things like
a Ouija board may appear, he estimates 90 percent of the worst cases
he has experienced begin with the use of the “game.”

“I always tell people to be extremely careful with things like Ouija boards,
tarot cards and having séances. It can be extremely dangerous dealing in anything to do with the supernatural realm.” Zaffis says
Certain objects are capable of opening a door to the unknown.

“It could be a good spirit, or it could be an invitation to something demonic,” Zaffis says.
“The thing is — You just never know.”

by Thomas Dimopoulos
The Saratogian

(photograph: psychic mist in a connecticut graveyard, courtesy: john zaffis)

Friday, October 28, 2005

Digging into the City’s Cemeteries

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Dusk frames the scene in an eerie silhouette.

Statues and crucifixes climb from stone slabs on a landscape freckled with monuments and
mausoleums. A tall obelisk rises from the earth, its pillar pointing - one presumes - toward heaven.

The only noise is the crunching sound of fall leaves being trampled underfoot and beneath headstones lie the remains of those who once walked the city’s streets, once lived the city’s life, and forevermore now rest for all eternity.

‘They may be gone,’ says Mary-Jane Rau Pelzer, ‘but they’re not forgotten.’

To illustrate her point, she cites a recent visit from two brothers who came to town from Connecticut and Ohio respectively, searching for genealogical information. The brothers visited the Gideon Putnam Cemetery and discovered their ancestry in the grave marker of John O.
and Phoebe Dostie.

Pelzer, Pelzer, who is the heritage events coordinator at the Saratoga Springs Visitor Center, holds a special affinity for Gideon Putnam, whose historical contributions to the city are significant.

Born in Massachusetts, Putnam moved here in his 20s. Early in the 19th century,
he donated a plot of land as a site for a future burial ground.
While building Congress Hall, Putnam fell from the scaffolding and suffered severe injuries.
He died a year later. In 1812, he became the first person interred at the cemetery named for him.

‘The Putnam Burial Ground is interesting. I see it as a place that’s rich in history,’ Pelzer says. ‘It speaks to us. There’s a story to be told there.’

The Putnam cemetery is one of dozens of interment sites throughout the county. Some are small and intimate - little more than a cluster of plots on family-owned farms.

Larger public cemeteries are found at the Greenridge on Lincoln Avenue. It announces its presence on a street sign near its entrance that simply reads: Dead End.

‘Greenridge is still beautiful today,’ Pelzer says. ‘It was intended to make a statement at the time, and it still does.’

Built during the ‘rural cemetery movement’ of the 1830s, the site was a response to the romantic notion of creating a visually idyllic and natural setting in which to pay tribute to the departed.

‘These were beautiful places where people would take picnics,’ Pelzer says.
The picnics, she believes, eased the pain of mourning.

The Greenridge was consecrated in June 1844, and counts among its thousands of interments those of political figures and a motion picture producer, Charles Brackett.

Brackett, a screenwriter with Paramount Studios in the 1930s, had a hand in a number of successful films, including the Oscar-winning ‘Sunset Boulevard,’ ‘The Lost Weekend’ and the 1953 film ‘Titanic.’

The rural cemetery movement convinced families to buy individual gravesites and family plots. Remains of their relatives from other sites were relocated to the new grounds.

‘It’s interesting in that you can see those dates previous to 1844 (the consecration of the Greenridge). You know that those remains were moved there,’ Pelzer says. Or in the case of the old Sadler Cemetery, should have been moved from there.

The Sadler was named after Seth Sadler, a prosperous Wilton farmer who moved to Saratoga Springs in the 1780s. He donated the land a few roads south of Spring Avenue, overlooking High Rock Spring.

The Sadler was Saratoga’s first cemetery. Its first burial was Fenn Wadsworth, a settler from Connecticut. Washburn was buried on June 21, 1785.

For nearly a century, the Sadler Cemetery expanded to include Revolutionary War soldiers and Roger Birchard, grandfather of Rutherford Birchard Hayes, the 19th president of the United States.

In 1874, when word reached historian William Stone that the bodies interred at the Sadler would be relocated, probably to be replaced by building lots, Stone sent off an angry reply.

‘Our graveyards ought to be venerated as holy ground.
Men should no more consent to such changes than they would consent to sell the bones of
their own fathers and mothers for knife handles,’ Stone wrote in condemnation.

‘Let those which are there stand as a memorial to the old and good men who sleep beneath.
Let them sleep!’ Stone continued.

One of the problems with the Sadler Cemetery was its location, situated on high land.

‘Addison Mallery was mayor of Saratoga Springs starting in the 1930s and served a number of terms,’ says City Historian Martha Stonequist says.
‘In his memoirs, Mallery wrote of the Sadler Cemetery that was located high on a slope on Nelson Avenue. When the snow would run off in the springtime, it would upend some of the coffins.’

Hastily, just before the remains were moved from the cemetery, Cornelius E. Durkee
made a detailed record of the grave stones and markings. He completed his work
on Sept. 30, 1876.

‘It is in a neglected condition,’ Durkee wrote, shortly before the removal began.
‘Before many years, the knoll upon which it is situated will doubtless be reduced
to the level of the surrounding lots.’

While the hill never was leveled and remains today, there were more shocking developments.

At the dawn of the 20th century, while excavations were being conducted on the site of the Sadler Cemetery, an array of bones, skulls and coffins were found poking through the mud
and dirt.

In one instance, schoolchildren discovered a skull and brought it to school, where a teacher confirmed it was human, from the old burial site.

Looking back at the Sadler Cemetery for her book ‘Chronicles of Saratoga,’ Evelyn Barrett Britten searched for one particular 18-inch-high headstone with a decorative vine carved
into marble that marked the spot where President Hayes’ grandfather was laid to rest.
She wondered where it was relocated.

‘The grave was moved from Sadler Cemetery,’ Britten wrote in the anthology, published in 1947. ‘But there is no record of where.’

In the movement of remains from the site, it would seem that a number of those at rest since the 1700s at Saratoga Springs’ first cemetery were most likely left behind.

by Thomas Dimopoulos
published in The Saratogian, Oct. 31, 2003

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Cemetery Tours digs in to Civil War history

P. Thomas Carroll paints a pretty picture of the mid-19th century Troy
landscape: ‘The rolling hills and trees, the striking architecture, and a beautiful view
of the Hudson Valley,’ says the executive director of Riverspark Heritage Area.

‘On a nice Sunday afternoon in the summer, you would go out after church
and have a picnic there. It was a very fashionable thing to do.’

Oakwood Cemetery was a place where people buried the dead as well as memorializing
them, in an idyllic setting.

Founded in the 1840s, there are approximately 60,000 souls buried at Oakwood Cemetery, says Carroll, a number that is greater than the current population of Troy.

There is a particular emphasis on military history at Oakwood Cemetery and Sunday
afternoon tours focus on this military history in general, and the Civil War in particular.

The tour visits the grave sites of John Wool, one of the most decorated soldiers in the
Mexican War; Civil War soldier and diarist Rice Bull and George Geer, who was aboard the USS Monitor during its fateful encounter with the Merrimac. The best known grave site is that of George Thomas. History records Thomas as the only Union Army general to never lose a battle
during the Civil War, earning him the nickname ‘The Rock of Chicamauga.’

‘George Thomas was born in Virginia and then went to West Point. There he became
an expert in artillery,’ Carroll says. ‘He married a woman from Troy, and when the Civil War broke out he had to choose who he would be loyal to. His oath of allegiance to the Union took precedence over the ‘accident’ of his birth, so he stayed with the Union army. His family disowned him as a result. When he died he was sent to Troy to be buried
with his wife’s family,’ Carroll says.

‘President Grant came up to Troy for the funeral and he brought along his cabinet and some important army generals from the war,’ Carroll says. ‘It was a big national event.’

At the Albany Rural Cemetery, hundreds more Civil War soldiers are buried.
The grave sites of Philip Schuyler (Revolutionary War), Stephen and Solomon Van
Rensselaer (War of 1812) and Henry Quackenbush (French andIndian Wars and the Revolutionary War) are on the tour visiting schedule.

Greenridge Cemetery in Saratoga Springs was consecrated in 1844, and a number of
soldiers buried within its gates have ties to the city. Former Lake Avenue resident James
Madison Andrews, Henry Street’s Charles W. Stewart, and longtime Broadway auctioneer Charles H.J. Hurd, are among them.

‘A loyal defender of his country, a true friend, and a kind husband,’ reads Hurd’s tombstone, who survived more than 50 years after being severely injured during battle
in the spring of 1862.

At Vale Cemetery in Schenectady, more than 100 Revolutionary War
and 150 Civil War veterans are buried.

Tours of the 18th century burial ground include the reading of stories of veterans
dating back to the French and Indian War and the American Revolution.

by Thomas Dimopoulos
published in The Saratogian, May 13, 2005.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Cultural Icons: Dead and Buried, but Where ?

Tennessee’s got Elvis. Washington state is where guitar god Jimi Hendrix is buried.
And exactly where Screaming Jay Hawkins has gone is anybody’s guess.

The High Priest of Voodoo Jive, best known for his creepy Halloween anthem
‘I Put a Spell on You,’ passed away in 2000. During a long musical career featuring
eerie stage performances with voodoo props, Hawkins proclaimed:
‘When I go, I don’t want to be buried. I’ve been in too many damn coffins already.’

Three years later, fans are wondering just where Hawkins ended up.

So where are some of the late cultural icons buried?

Some simply went home. Jack Kerouac is buried in Lowell, Mass.; James Dean
rests in Fairmont, Ind.; and Buddy Holly is buried in Lubbock, Texas.
Former Doors singer Jim Morrison chose picturesque Paris to spend eternity.

Halfway across the globe, Moscow’s Novodevichy Cemetery holds the remains of Russian Premier Nikita Khruschev, composer Sergei Prokofiev and writer Anton Chekhov.

Back in North America, a pair of Hollywood-area cemeteries hold the best-known stars of all.

Interred at Westwood Village Memorial Park, Janis Joplin and Roy Orbison share
the grounds with Frank Zappa and Peggy Lee. Walter Matthau is also there,
reunited with Jack Lemmon on acreage that also includes burial sites of Dean Martin
and ‘Pink Flamingos’ and ‘Polyester’ star Edith Massey.

Sammy Davis Jr. is interred across town at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills, along with Humphrey Bogart, George Burns, Nat King Cole and the former ‘IT Girl,’ Clara Bow.

Allman brother Duane and Allman’s bass player Berry Oakley are both buried in Macon, Ga.

Former New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders is interred alongside longtime drummer accomplice Jerry Nolan at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Queens.

If politics make for strange bedfellows, consider the interments in Los Angeles’
Inglewood Park Cemetery.

Jazz legends Chet Baker and Ella Fitzgerald, burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee,
actor Cesar Romero - best known for his role as The Joker on ‘Batman,’ and one-time
boxing champion Sugar Ray Robinson are all at rest there.

Among the ashes scattered at sea are those of singer Maria Callas and comedian Bud Abbott, writer Lester Bangs and composer John Cage.

A little closer to home, Rod Serling of ‘Twilight Zone’ fame is interred in Interlaken. Leonard Bernstein shares Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery with infamous New Yorker ‘Boss’ Tweed.

Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx is the burial site of writers Herman Melville
and Damon Runyon. Jazzmen Miles Davis, Lionel Hampton and Duke Ellington are also at Woodlawn.

A few miles southeast, John Coltrane and Count Basie are at rest at Pinelawn Memorial Park
on Long Island.

Marilyn Monroe, one of the most notable icons of the 20th century, is buried at Westwood Village. The plot next to Marilyn is vacant. It is the future burial site of Hugh Hefner.
You can find more information on who’s where in the hereafter, at the Web site:

by Thomas Dimopoulos
published in The Saratogian, Oct. 31, 2003.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Love It To Death & Other Sweet Things

I am, no doubt, dating myself but as far as personal creeps for the harrowing holiday go,
I would place Alice Cooper's “Killer” and “Love it to Death” albums at the top of heap for
All Hallows Eve.

Even as they date back a quarter-century (maybe more?) little seems to match the sheer
fun the Coop delivered once upon a time, belting out lyrics to “I’m Eighteen” or
“School’s Out” or “Public Animal No. 9" while a snake slithered and coiled 'round his torso
and the backdrop of the stage was fitted with head-hacking guillotines, inflatable monsters,
and fiery explosions of the most bombastic kind.

For sheer terror, there were the instrumental rampages of “Black JuJu”
and “Halo of Flies.” For creepy content, “You Drive Me Nervous,” accompanied by
the mid-70s tunes “Sick Things,” “I Love the Dead,” and the particularly disturbing “Unfinished Sweet,” which roared to a catchy pop beat even as a sonic drill wheedled and zoomed with the sounds of dental surgery in the song's background.

Favorite unintentional costume: Tom Waits, whose dark-speckled five-o'clock-shadow,
rumpled jacket, hat, and gloves with fingers cut out of them were a fitting fashion for the man
who sang things like: "It's raining hammers, It's raining nails...'

Fondest musical memories LIVE:
Screaming Jay Hawkins performing “I Put a Spell on You” at the big gymnasium-looking, turned concert hall, Irving Plaza, one Halloween night in the late 1970s.

Same era: One especially demented Manhattan marathon, Holloween-time,
that included The Dead Boys performing on stage at CBGB’s, David Bowie filming
his “Scary Monsters” video at an uptown disco called Hurrah’s, and an afterhours gathering
in a decrepit, 1940s-era movie house on 14th Street that was attended by black-clad
Burroughsian mugwump characters, glitter-rock goblins, and one particularly memorable character who went by the name of Dave and claimed to be a friend of Jimmy Page
and a disciple of Aleister Crowley.

- Thomas

Monday, October 24, 2005

Fangs on Film in The Dead of Winter

ALBANY- Bruce Hallenbeck lives with his wife, his cats and about 3,000 movies.
The films, he said, are to keep him company in case he gets snowed in.

The big old house where he makes his home is in a sleepy Hudson Valley town, not far from where he grew up.

It is a place where the legends of Washington Irving are inescapable. Where the dense forests provoke haunting images of Ichabod Crane being chased by the Headless Horseman; where Martin Van Buren - the eighth president of the United States - drew his final breath in the summer of 1862. It is a place where the mind can ramble in imagination, where the ominous sounds of a lonely cello run deep, circulating with the crash of cymbals, creepy violins and a foreboding landscape that threatens to unleash a volley of blood-curdling screams from within.

'I grew up around that kind of folklore,' said Hallenbeck, who recalled one particularly life-defining moment in 1958.

Like many other neighborhood kids his age, Hallenbeck headed down to the local cinema to attend a screening of the film 'The Horror of Dracula.' While his peers ran from the theater
in a panic, young Bruce laughed at the fleeing mass and instead found inspiration in what
was happening on the screen.

'For me it was an epiphany,' Hallenbeck said.

More than 45 years have passed, and Hallenbeck has spent a good part of his adult life in the light of that epiphany. He is a film critic and an actor, a script writer and a movie-maker, with nine full-length feature films to his credit.

'I'd say I'm all of those, but I always consider myself a writer first. It's all about creating,' he said. His most recent film,'London After Midnight," had its world premiere at the New York State Museum during the four-day Dead of Winter film festival. The festival also featured
a pair of Hallenbeck's earlier films.

'Vampyre' is the movie maker's macabre and brooding ode to the 1931 surrealist Danish film 'Vampyr.' Originally shot on 16mm film, the late 1980s film was Hallenbeck's earliest feature. A second film, 'Fangs,' is hosted by 1950s horror movie starlet Veronica Carlson.

' 'Fangs' I call my shockumentary. It's an hour long look at the history of vampires,' Hallenbeck said. Hallenbeck describeshis latest, 'London After Midnight,' as a combination of 'The X-Files' and 'The Avengers' meets the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

It is a tale of two people fighting the dark forces of evil in today's world. The movie has been a long time in the making.

'It took seven years,' Hallenbeck said. 'There were so many travails, 20 speaking parts and a lot of post-production. It is a very ambitious project.'

Among the locations where the film was shot is a fabled old gangster and movie star hangout called The Crooked Lakehouse in the Hudson Valley. Scenes were also shot at the now-defunct post-punk goth-looking club QE2 in downtown Albany.

The club's black walls and diabolical decor provided the setting for his action/adventure/horror movie.
'The only thing we had to do was just had to bring in the lights,' the filmmaker said.

Hallenbeck has worn many different hats in his own productions and in those of others, often simultaneously.
'It can get a little hairy at times, but life is short. I don't want to waste it,' he said. For fellow filmmaker Joe Bagnardi, Hallenbeck has killed, drank blood and eaten somebody's brains. What are friends for?

Bagnardi had his own day of multiple screenings at the museum's film festival.
After making hundreds of Super 8mm movies as a young man growing up in Watervliet, Bagnardi made his first feature film in 1995, 'Shadow Tracker Vampire Hunter,' parts of
which were filmed in Saratoga Spa State Park.
Two additional films, 'Edge of Reality' and 'Blood of the Werewolf,' were also screened.

Scenes filmed in the Capital Region have made their way around the world. Horror film is a popular genre in the foreign market, Bagnardi explains, and some of his independent work
has traveled to places like England and Germany, even Taiwan.

The entire film medium is one that gives Bagnardi pleasure.

'The whole movie-going experience is a great escape. You can just go into a different world.
I want to entertain people. I want to strike a chord with them, touch on an emotion,' he said.

When Broadway Joe's closed in Saratoga Springs, the once viable outlet for moviemakers like Bagnardi and Hallenbeck was gone, and the search began for alternative venues.
Coincidentally, the New York State Museum was looking to showcase movies by area filmmakers and the Dead of Winter film festival was born.

by Thomas Dimopoulos
The Saratogian, Jan. 2005.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Boo! Theory

With autumn comes early darkness, paving those once gloriously golden
summer footpaths in the bleak shadows of dusk.

The green, rolling hills are gone, and in their place is the ominous crackle of dead leaves
being trampled underfoot.
A chilly breeze whispers ungodly things beneath its icy breath and there is the distinct scent of someone burning wood nearby, perhaps from
a bonfire.

The only thing visible beneath a dark blanket of night hiding the stars is a glowing moon streaked by a passing wisp of cloud. The only sound is of a swinging door attached to a porch somewhere in the distance as it gets slammed by the wind, over and over and over again.

Your mouth is dry and your pulse races. It gets so that you try to hold your breath to keep the imaginary stalker from hearing you exhale. But all this does is send waves of dizziness through your head and makes your heart beat faster and faster.

In the darkness, there is the quickening creepiness of being watched, and the feeling that at any moment, some unseen entity will leap out from behind the darkness and pounce.

‘People like something that gets a little bit of the adrenaline going,’ said Leo Martin, owner of the Double M Haunted Hayride in Malta.
‘It’s the unexpected that scares people. The unexpected within reason, of course,’ he said.

Across the other side of the county, Schuyler Farms is having a haunting of their own. A long dirt road leads to the entrance of the haunted corn maze where large, black spiders dot the landscape of waist-high corn stalks that rear their ugly above rows and rows of fields of hay.

The key to the deepest thrills and creepiest chills, is the what bubbles in the cauldron of
the imagination.
Fright Factor plays on pre-existing fears, and have something to do with the human brain chemistry of serotonin levels and the releasing of endorphins. Emotionally, for adults in particular, the Halloween scare is a healthy return to childhood ways. The kicks come
from dealing with fear - something people wouldn’t ordinarily enjoy - in a playful way.

‘With fear, people have this sense of things as being out of their control,’ said Saratoga Springs-based psychotherapist Veronica Cole.
‘When people deal with spooky things they know are not really real. This is sort of a fun fear
and something they can find enjoyment in.’
Particularly, she said, when the journey into fear is a group experience. In the company of friends, it can be an empowering adventure.

The escapism is aided by theatrics and by artists of illusion. Makeup artist Frank Ippolito lives in Hollywood, Calif. He has worked on the TV shows ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and ‘Friends,’ and on the set of the films ‘Daredevil’ and ‘Scary Movie 2.’

His is the work of bruised and lumpy foreheads and bloody scars and prosthetics to create wicked monsters and evil-looking pumpkin heads. Ippolito was brought to Lake George for the month of October to work on the Great Escape’s Fright Fest. He splits his time between the actual handiwork of making scary prosthetics and monstrous molds and applying his gruesome creations to characters you see walking around the park, as well as those slithering through Skull Manor.

‘A lot of my inspiration comes from old comic books and movies that scared the crap out of me when I was a kid,’ said Ippolito, whose childhood growing up in Ohio was most affected by seeing movies like ‘Werewolf in London.’
It inspired him to work in the movie business and to move to Hollywood, a place that is no stranger to fearful fog, scary skeletons and the creepy creak of decrepit floorboards.

Playing into common pre-existing fears, the industry comes out with films like ‘Arachnophobia’ or ‘The Exorcist.’ And there’s no measuring the effect that a movie like ‘Jaws’ has had on a generation of beachcombers, or, for that matter, what fearful images ‘Psycho’ instilled for someone trying to complete the simple act of taking a shower.

Halloween costumes exaggerate the person. Sometimes, costumes portray the shadowy self - that small, deeply suppressed part of ourselves that we secretly hate or fear. At Halloween Hall in Ballston Spa, Lois Myers has seen a lot of changes in style of costumes in her 23 years in the

‘What people want in costumes today is a lot more sophisticated than in the past,’ Myers said. ‘It used to be simple, Dracula or Frankenstein.
Now with movies like ‘Scream’ or a popular horror film with a Freddie Krueger or a Jason, these new characters become a staple.

‘My theory is people want to play dress up and do this madcap thing. And there is a big difference in what men and women want when it comes to costume. The guys like to be scary, so they put on an ogre mask and scare little boys and girls. It’s like the little boy in them is comingout, wanting to give a good laugh or a scare. The girls don’t want to be ugly. They want to be a princess; they want to be a cheerleader. They want to have a costume that makes them look attractive,’ she said.

For the rest of us, there is the ominous echo of a ticking clock, the tinkling notes at the high end of a piano, and the knowledge that around every foggy corner, the cloak of darkness promises
a sudden breath-talking surprise of the unknown.

by Thomas Dimopoulos
The Saratogian, Oct. 24, 2004.