Halloween Stories

By on 19 October, 2011 in Fun, Holidays, Kate and Stephen with 0 Comments

In an era of instant digital gratification and flashy and expensive CGI effects, the ancient art of storytelling seems sometimes to be teetering on extinction’s edge. The rituals of Halloween, so much about telling stories (“and he was hiding in her back seat ALL ALONG”) sometimes seem to be disappearing in favor of the pre-packaged mall (or church) experience. As we move away from the home-made costumes of our youth, we lose more than the peculiar artistry of cotton balls and glitter – we lose the radical inventiveness of Halloween. Last week, we went in search of excellent storytellers in this season of scare and wonder, and found two worthy of your attention and dollars in the prefatory days to one of our favorite times of year, Halloween.

Shannon Fontaine and his hearse

The Haunted Hearse

Last year, local storytelling auteur Shannon Fontaine bought a hearse, installed speakers and interior door handles (they don’t come standard – think about it), got a taxi license, and became Haunted Hearse Tours of Montgomery. We tried to go last year, but waited until it was too close to Halloween. Booked! This year, we went early. We are so glad we did. The experience is already a highlight of our autumn.

Shannon offers tours hourly from 6-10 every night, as long as you make a reservation. Tours start downtown at the entrance to The Alley next to Dreamland. At first, we were a little skeptical – you get into the hearse to some spooky music and a guy in a top hat, and you can’t help but thinking that the next hour is going to be a little cheesy and perhaps even tiresome. It is anything but.

Shannon, a former Montgomery police officer, has a true gift for telling stories and a love for Montgomery that shines through every dark tale that populates your hour with him. We don’t want to spoil the ride for you by telling his stories in advance, so we won’t reveal the details here, but we do want to say that even reasonable Montgomery history buffs like us were held on the edge of our seats by the unique combination of presentation and information that Shannon has to offer. Most of the stories are a bit macabre, but they are clearly just a subset of his encyclopedic knowledge of our city’s colorful history.

It’s well worth the $15 to cruise around in a hearse listening to tales of Catfish Bob, open heart surgery, murder in the Capitol, the Featherduster murder, the Huntington Red Lady, baseball bat decapitations, and a late night cruise by Hank’s grave. We even learned something entirely new – the tragic WAPX shootings by Arthur Willie Lewis and Reginald Reese Robinson. And all true! We’re lucky to live in a city that has been around for centuries and fortunate to have someone who has cataloged (and can tell about) some of our town’s darker moments.

Book your tour with Shannon now through Halloween by calling him at 514-4457.

Dracula

Our friends at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival have been talking up their Dracula production for a while now, and after we interviewed Montgomery’s own special effects genius Jonathan Thornton, we knew we had to go check out the play for ourselves. Honestly, we weren’t sure what to think. We’d loved the outdoor production of Macbeth that we saw last year, but have been skeptical of crowd pleasing but non-classic ASF offerings like Menopause: The Musical for a few years now. Dracula impressed us, and not just because we’re big fans of the source material and not just because we’d interviewed the guy who did the fantastic masks. Although the acting was shaky in parts (perhaps just a touch too much scenery chewing by the Count, and an unpersuasive Jonathan Harker), in other parts it was just perfect (we loved Lucy’s feminist rant and delighted in the play’s portrayal of vampirism as a reaction to prudish Victorian morays). The source material is very, very good, and Paul Hebron does a great job of conveying Van Helsing’s world weary athleticism, a sort of Indiana Jones at the end of his years, back for one last battle with the immortal. The beautiful sets and excellent overall production made us feel lucky to live in a town with such frankly excellent theater.

At intermission, we went to the bar and downed one of the specialty vampire-themed drinks on offer (our verdict: not nearly strong enough and too choked with ice to be $5), we thought about the confluence of the hearse ride and the play in progress. Both are artifacts of an older time, when a few individuals could hold you rapt with only some well-chosen words and a prop or two (although Dracula’s special effects are certainly very modern … and cool). Storytelling doesn’t have to be a museum piece, some quaint art that gets showcased at specialty festivals that also serve funnel cake. It’s got plenty of modern purchase as well, and can certainly be more scary than all the CGI gore you can dream up. And as fans of the recently-deceased Kathryn Tucker Windham, we in Alabama have a special obligation to use Halloween to tell (and create) some memorable stories of our own.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

 

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