Despite the more than two decades that I have spent in Pittsburgh, I'd never attended a zombie walk before this weekend. If you know anything at all about the walking undead, you're certainly aware that this city has a special relationship to the grotesque and slow moving creatures. George Romero made the seminal movie in the genre- "The Night of the Living Dead", and he followed it with a succession of likeminded flicks over the last thirty years. And there's Tom Savini too... award-winning special effects artist who has worked on the Romero films, as well as "Creephow", "Friday the 13th" and "Maniac". Savini was born in Pittsburgh, and Romero attended CMU, and shot some of his earliest footage here.
Although the very first zombie-related public-event on record happened in 2001 in Sacramento, CA, horror luminaries like Savini and Romero inspire legions of fans that want to avoid tarnishing their legacy. Perhaps that's why the largest gatherings of folks in zombie make-up are traditionally held in the Burgh. On this past Sunday, hordes of monstrous citizens collected in Downtown's Market Square for this year's Zombie Fest (an event which is supposed to benefit the World Food Bank). The first of this particular series was in 2006 at the Monroeville mall (set of Romero's "Dawn of the Dead") and it established a Guinness Record for such gatherings with 894 walkers. Naturally, that standard has been eclispsed multiple times since.
Truthfully, I had no real intention of going to this thing until I ended up at a friend's house too early in the day to start watching movies on television. It was way too nice a day to sit inside, and since I knew that something was going on I suggested we check it out. My friend is also a local art photographer who I knew would be game for shooting zombies. We found a parking space and started looking for the festivities. It wasn't too hard to find the center of activity, as there was a huge stage set up, a registration table mobbed by costumed creeps, and tons of people milling about and taking in the scene.
Some participants really get into the spirit of the event and the characters they are playing. They shamble along and ape for the many cameras. Others sport colored contacts that make them look especially spooky. No doubt an excessive amount of man (and women) hours go into outfitting those who attend such an extravaganza. There is certainly a healthy amount of good-natured one-upmanship, as fanatics try to be excessively more gross than the rest. And then there are those with a sense of humor- furries with stuffed animals protruding from their mouths, the "Where's Waldo" zombie-version, and such-like. There was even a small clan of inevitable Marcellus Shale protestors seizing the opportunity to press home their point.
I'll admit to having had a certain amount of goofy fun wandering around, and looking at the creativity on display. I wasn't there very long, so perhaps I'm not very qualified to say, but it certainly seemed that the crowd was extremely orderly for a collection of zombies. People were freely partaking of alcoholic beverages in the open air, yet I didn't see the type of boisterous behavior I might expect from an outdoor weekend party. I'd say that it was truly a family-friendly event... at least for those with a strong stomach.