Elgin plans for increased Nightmare on Chicago Street turnout

  • Elgin's Nightmare on Chicago Street is expected to attract as many as 16,000 visitors to the city's downtown.

    Elgin's Nightmare on Chicago Street is expected to attract as many as 16,000 visitors to the city's downtown. Courtesy of Patricia Wilson

  • Apocalyptic scenes and zombies are some of the highlights of Elgin's sixth annual Nightmare on Chicago Street.

    Apocalyptic scenes and zombies are some of the highlights of Elgin's sixth annual Nightmare on Chicago Street. Courtesy of Michael Wilson

  • Svengoolie will return to judge the costume contest at Elgin's sixth annual Nightmare on Chicago Street.

    Svengoolie will return to judge the costume contest at Elgin's sixth annual Nightmare on Chicago Street. Courtesy of Michael Wilson

 
By Dave Gathman
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 10/18/2016 2:08 PM

Nightmare on Chicago Street is described by city officials as "Elgin's signature event of the year" for attracting visitors from all over Northern Illinois.

And it has been so successful in that mission that it's biggest problem has become how to handle too many people.

 

Sometimes the six-block area hosting the zombie-themed bash has been so jammed that some have simply given up trying to get in. As the city and a host of volunteers prepare to launch Nightmare No. 6 from 6 to 11 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22, Elgin Special Events Manager Barb Keselica expects the turnout to expand yet again, from last year's 14,000 to about 16,000. But she and her fellow planners have devised several ways to make the music, food and fun more accessible.

Aimed at adults, Nightmare is based on the idea that the six fenced-off blocks in downtown Elgin are the only "safe zone" from an invasion of zombies.

Carrying the "Living Dead" theme into music, this year's entertainment will include seven bands and three disc jockeys re-creating the sounds of musical icons Prince, Michael Jackson, Nirvana, the Doors, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie and Stone Temple Pilots.

A costume contest will be hosted by TV host Svengoolie. A campy video called "It Came From the Lab" directed and written by David Metzger, and starring Laurie-Faith Gibson, Rich Jacobs and Jason Pawlowski, will be screened in a temporary movie theater. Food, drink and horror-related merchandise will be up for sale.

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And, when they can be squeezed in between the crowds, a band of actor/dancers organized by former bookstore owner Judi Brownfield will do "street theater" -- as Brownfield puts it, "showing the faceoff between the survivors and the non-survivors."

"Each year I'm surprised by the number who come," said Brownfield, who is one of six members of a volunteer corps calling themselves the Zombie Defense Initiative who have organized Nightmare since it started in 2011. "We have to evaluate the density of the crowd" before starting their act, she said.

Why all the love for zombies nationwide?

"There's a fascination in trying to find humor in something that's quite horrible," Brownfield theorized. "It's facing your worst fears and imagining what you would be like if you had to go through this. And in apocalyptic literature and films, it isn't always the fine, upstanding citizens who turn out to do the best."

Keselica thinks Elgin's particular version draws so many people because its adult-oriented horror/humor/music and its time of year are unique. She said more suburbs, such as Schaumburg and Naperville, have some kind of summer festival. St. Charles' Scarecrow Festival also falls at Halloween time but is aimed at a family crowd.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"One feedback we have gotten is that 'you can't move' because of the crowding," Keselica said. "So we have moved some of the bigger items off the street."

A third music stage has been added. No strollers will be allowed, and neither will be any weapons -- real or fake.

Downtown parking lots also clogged. So this year attendees can park for free at the former Sherman Hospital parking lot at Center and Slade streets, then ride a shuttle bus downtown. Or a $20 VIP pass will allow them to park in the Spring Street Parking Deck.

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