If you see a bandaged, bleeding, limping group of zombies walking toward you on the street in October, know this: they’re probably supporting a local charity.
Zombie walks have become the rage in American cities, with an estimated 50 municipalities from Florida to Washington state all making way for kooky—but ultimately charitable—events that celebrate mythical flesh-eating, leg dragging monstrous characters.
Many of the events, designed to get people outside on an October weekend, are channeling the good intentions of zombofiles to benefits local groups.
In Pittsburgh, where director George Romero’s classics Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead were filmed, residents claim a kind of “horror heritage,” says Zombie Walk founder Mark Menold. “It’s kind of our thing in Pittsburgh.”
Menold, the host of a weekly television show that shows classic Grade-B horror movies, had heard of Zombie walks in other cities and decided in 2006 that Pittsburgh should have one too. Using his television connections to promote it, he organized the first walk, which drew about 500. But Menold thought it should be something more than just an event designed “to freak people out.”
“I didn’t want people to have to pay to participate,” he said. “But I thought it would be good if they brought canned food items as an admission fee. Then I’d donate the take to the local food bank. You know, there’s an irony of the living feeding off of the zombies (because in movies, zombies feed off the living).
Since its start, the Pittsburgh Zombie walk has gotten larger and larger each year. Thanks to increased promotion and programming, Menold’s event made it into the Guinness Book of World Records in 2008 when 897 people showed up. (The current record — 4,200 participants — was set in Seattle in July 2010.) The Pittsburgh walk has morphed into a day-long event featuring band concerts, Zombie Olympics, a screaming contest, an “Ugly Pageant,” and Jello-brain eating contest.
If you’re interested in creating a charity Zombie event, check out www.worldzombieday.org, a forum in which organizers share tips and Menold encourages cities to hold their Zombies walks simultaneously on the second Sunday in October. You can find Zombie walks in Paris, London, Germany, even in Japan.
All of the Zombie events that we’ve uncovered are independent events started by zombie aficionados, not by charities themselves.
In Houston, Amy Buresh, an employee of an engineering firm and zombie aficionado, decided that having a Zombie Walk in her home city would be a great community building experience. Beneficiaries to date have included the Houston Food bank (which received donated food) and Tillman’s Troops (which received cash donations and goods that could be sent to soldiers fighting abroad.) Participation has grown from 100 to more than 600 this year. Next year, Buresh plans to support an animal shelter.
The $7,500 that the 5K Traverse City, Michigan Zombie Run raised for the Traverse Area Rail Trail Network (TART) was an unexpected windfall for the organization’s $400,000 budget, according to TART Executive Director Julie Clark.
“That this race came along—organized by a member of the community —makes us feel great, and reminds us that we’re doing the things we do for the benefit of the whole community,” she says. “We’re an organization that’s scraping every penny, and when Matt came to us with this idea, we were crying tears of joy!”
Event organizer Matt Ross charges adults $25 and kids $15 to participate. Like many other Zombie event organizers, he depends heavily on Facebook and word of mouth to recruit participants. He uses active.com for registration. Registration for this year’s October 30 event is running ahead of 2009 thanks to innovations such as two start times: One for Survivors of Zombies (those who want to run as humans) and one for “the Infected,” those who want to dress as Zombies.
Before jumping in to create your own Zombie event, be forewarned that they present unusual logistical challenges.
According to the Wikipedia, on May 1, 2010, the annual Zombie Shuffle in Melbourne, Australia saw the largest attendance in its five year history, but some locals complained of the mess that the zombie “gore” left behind as well as the walk’s disruption of a play for preschoolers.
It’s incumbent on walk organizers to impress on participants the importance of following some strange rules. For example:
“Obey the road rules! …we don’t want any zombies getting killed (again) by cars/trams/etc.
“NO intentional frightening of children/the elderly/animals.
“Use the haunted house rule — You are not to touch anyone.