Saturday, October 23, 2010

Chili, Zombies Downtown: Harvest Festival brings crowd to Torrington's Main Street

TORRINGTON - A full moon cast a ghostly glow over downtown as the brave toured the city's oldest cemetery and zombie look-alikes and mortals alike gobbled warm chili, soup, sandwiches and popcorn in the chilly Friday evening air at the Northwest Connecticut Harvest Festival.
Master of Ceremonies Keith Paul, claiming to be 128 years old in his zombie getup, carried around a bag of plastic skeletons and insects, posing for photos and entertaining Main Street's guests.
"It's a wonderful town and I'm glad we're having this event," said Paul, of Torrington, who was recruited for the night for his theater background and over-the-top personality.
The festival, organized by the city's Arts and Culture Commission, was an extension of Main Street Marketplace, the well-attended series held on nine Thursdays this summer.
Steve Criss, the commission's chairman, said people were so fond of the summer event, they wanted it to run every Thursday through the fall. Though they couldn't do that, the commission hoped to tap into the momentum generated by the summer festival to host a one-night fall event that would draw attention to the city's arts scene and businesses.
"It's been a lot of fun and ultimately it's good to get people on the street doing something," Criss said. "That was our ultimate goal, to get people to our city and exploring downtown, and in that way it's succeeded."
The festival coincided with Ghost Hunters Live at the Warner Theatre and The Rocky Horror Show at the Warner's Nancy Marine Studio Theater, and Criss said at least 2,000 people were downtown, if only passing through, for those shows. He said that crowd is comparable to those during the summer event, and that he had heard of many people planning to come from out of town and out of state.
Sue Longo, 40, of East Providence, R.I., was in town with her 8-year-old daughter and 11-year-old nephew. They were here for the Warner and a stay at the Yankee Pedlar, but the children took advantage of the festivities, having their faces painted and posing for photos in the street.
"We came to see the Ghost Hunters and this just made it more fun," Longo said.
To set a festive tone for the night, anyone dressed as a zombie was awarded a "zombie punch card," good for drink specials at downtown bars and discounts from Main Street shops. There was a carved pumpkin contest with awards for funniest, scariest, most creative and best in show. Bands, a contortionist and people on stilts performed, and the Torrington Historical Society led tours of Center Cemetary behind City Hall throughout the evening.
Though the street festival season has come to a close, the Main Street Marketplace will return next year from June through August, for 12 weeks rather than nine weeks. The commission plans to double the number of vendors and the Harvest Festival is expected to be an annual event.

Originally appeared 10/23/10 in the Republican-American

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