Rex B. Hamilton reports on the 2009 Ironstock Haunt Conference
July 2, 2009
Greetings, Fellow Haunters:
I had a pleasant time at the final Ironstock Haunt Conference this past weekend. Producers Ralph “Ironman” and Melissa “Ironlady” Griffith gave us all many opportunities to smile, laugh and sigh as the tenth and last Ironstock show wound its way from Friday evening until late Sunday afternoon.
Some bullet points about the conference:
1. The weather was hot in Tell City, Indiana, with temperatures in the low 90s and brilliant sunshine. No one left the shade of the pavilions unless to participate in the coffin races or vie for a free t-shirt blasted out of Ironman’s air-cannon howitzer.
2. I worked with “The Not So Secret Society of the Bitch Sisters”as a volunteer slug. These big-mouthed broads allowed me run the t-shirt sales booth on Saturday afternoon. Just for fun, I purchased a shocking-pink “Bitch Sisters” t-shirt and proudly wore it that day. (Guys, here’s a little fashion secret for you - if you want to completely freak out women, wear pink.)
3. Ironstock has its own relaxed schedule of doing things, usually 30-45 minutes behind what’s been advertised. (All the other haunt conventions that I attend are fairly punctual as to when classes, auctions, meetings, tours and parties begin and end.) I suspect that the heat and humidity had a hand here. Many attendees grabbed empty chairs and tables in the shaded pavilions and did little more than sit around all day, yak and stay hydrated.
Much of what I experienced at Ironstock in my only previous visit (2006) was different. There was no tour of Ironman’s “Slaughter on Second Street” haunted attraction, however the haunt still thrives during the October “season.” Instead of a rollicking outdoor party in the Ramada Inn’s parking lot on Friday night there was a welcome reception in the basement of the fairground’s party center. The overall number of attendees and vendors took a few steps back from 2006. Perhaps it was out of sympathy that they stayed away. Not all of us, it seems, enjoy watching a good friend die.
A mock funeral for the Ironstock conference was held on Friday evening, right after the welcome reception ended. The Bitch Sisters stood by in all black dresses with hats and veils as a metal coffin, symbolizing Ironstock, was lugged to the front of the modest banquet hall by six long-time attendees. There were grand speeches and testimonials mixed with shouts and cries from the audience. I watched a tough-looking man with a crewcut right next to me, who had attended every Ironstock, burst into longs bouts of tears as he weepingly told the crowd how much he will miss them all. I will miss them, too.
At nearly the last moment, I was asked to be a speaker at the funeral and I gladly accepted. What I told the audience was that the death of Ironstock might also be a disguised, happy beginning for something better. I briefly gave them a look at my history of producing haunted conventions. The Ohio Haunted Conferences that I was a part of in 2001 and 2002 ran out of producers in 2003 and quickly screeched to a halt. But later, through the efforts of Kathy and Barry Schieferestein and Neena and Kelly Collins, the show transmorgrified itself into the Midwest Haunters Convention and remains a point of pride for us Ohioans to this day.
A few more bullet points - these are about Saturday:
1. The attendees, nearly all of whom are yard haunters, just jabbered the day away with each other. I saw long conversations at vendor booths as both sides jockeyed over a potential sales transaction. You couldn’t leave the shade of the pavilions and be in the sun for more than a few minutes before feeling its effects. Since we were all somewhat imprisoned under the pole barns, we had no choice but to be sociable with one another.
2. The Saturday night fashion show is an event that I’ve never seen at other haunt conventions. The costumes were provided by large as well as quite small costume vendors. Men, women and children sashayed down the runway, under the spotlight, sporting all sorts of looks. We laid our eyes on styles from the Greek god Dionysus to modern-day goth punk.
3. The Weasel Ball (the convention’s DJ-ed dance party) ran from 9 PM until 1 AM. There were plenty of people on the dance floor, including yours truly, all night. In the middle of the show the lights came on and we partygoers voted for the best table display in the banquet hall. (Table display contests are a regular feature at Ironstock, again a competition that I’ve never seen at other conventions.) The winner was a miniature Norman castle tower with a “bottomless pit” mirror effect inside the tower, illuminated by miniature UV LED spotlights.
Ironstock was a ten-year labor of love for Ralph and Melissa. It’s a good thing that they have plenty of love for the haunt industry because the labor of presenting a convention can be somewhat overwhelming at times. Like nearly every other haunt convention, Ironstock survived and thrived because of the many volunteers who poured in their energy and the vendor-friends who donated merchandise to give away.
The Bitch Sisters cooked up their own special weekend raffle to raise money to cover the convention’s costs. As I understand it, the table top displays at the Weasel Ball were for sale to whomever wanted them and the proceeds would also cover convention costs. I don’t know what the vendors paid for their booths and I don’t care. Weekend attendees, such as myself, forked over twenty bucks for a purple wristband that proclaimed that we were there for the duration. Those who attended just for the day on Saturday reached for a ten-spot and wore an orange wristband. Everyone I spoke to hoped that all this revenue would cover the show and weren’t concerned about anything beyond that.
Regretfully, Ironstock now belongs to history. But perhaps its spirit might still live on. A company called Fright Night Productions intends to put on a haunt show in the Louisville area next June 11-13 at the Holiday Inn Express Louisville Northwest. There is, as of yet, no name for the show nor a Web site. Other rumors I heard talked about adding a haunt show to next year’s Horror Hound movie/memorabilia show in Indianapolis. The site is http://horrorhoundweekend.com. And there were a few more rumors of even a third possible show in the general area where Indiana and Kentucky come together.
All these attempts at new conventions demonstrate how much Ironstock will be missed. What made it a special gathering was that it was tiny jewel of haunted elegance set amidst the vast farmlands of the great Midwest.
Ever since I learned that 2009 would be the final year I knew that I had to attend, and I’m glad I did. What we in the commercial haunt industry don’t always remember is that the home/yard- haunt industry continues to steadily grow as the years go by. Yet, it’s dicey if the remnants of Ironstock can conjure up three viable haunted gatherings. But it wouldn’t surprise me if two successful replacement shows appear on next year’s convention calendar. A hydra effect, where two sprout up to replace one fallen, would be a fitting epitaph for Ironstock.
Onward, my brothers and sisters in terror.
Rex B. Hamilton
13939 Clifton Boulevard
Lakewood, Ohio 44107-1462
“Haunted house actor is not an entry-level position” Roger “Ichabod” Miller
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