Haunted Playground 2011

Clarke Park, Martins Pond

I was around to once again help out with the Haunted Playground event that the neighborhood folks around Martins Pond put on every year. As usual, my set of pictures tends toward telling more of the backstory and infrastructure side of how it all goes together.

Small pictures link to larger copies, and a linear list of all the large ones is here for easier bulk downloading if you like.

Links to other peoples' picture sets will show up here as I am made aware of them.

Painting day   (weekend before)

Flats pulled out of storage for painting Set painting
Flats got pulled out of the storage trailer, freed of a year's worth of dust and cruft, and laid out for repainting to make this year's set backdrops. We had fairly good weather for most of this, albeit a bit breezy which can sometimes be problematic with flats built from light strapping and styrofoam insulation. But that otherwise makes them quite easy to handle and transport.
Building scarecrow bases Painting scarecrow bases not-quite-black
A new thing this year was to put scarecrow figures up around the Pumpkin Patch, complete with lit jack-o-lanterns forming the heads. This needed a couple of minimal but sturdy frames constructed and painted some indeterminate dark color. What we had wasn't quite black but a rather fetching dark purple; most of what we use is the wikkid-cheap "oops paint" from screwed-up mixes at the local Home Emporium. At something like two or three bucks a gallon, how can you go wrong.

The old wood-slat fence pieces used in construction of the graveyard are shown here still stashed under the trailer from last year, and they stayed in quite good shape on top of the pallets that the municipal Park & Rec folks supplied to keep them off the ground. They were even delivered over to the park the day before the event so we could start using them, along with all the town-supplied traffic cones and fencing and stakes and other stuff.

Rain clouds rolling in A little rain did roll in later that afternoon, sending the volunteers scurrying with their remaining workpieces into shelter under an overhanging part of the utility building on the other side. But we were almost done at that point so it was simple to finish up.

Setup   (Friday)

A lot of pre-setup work usually happens the Friday before the event by those who can have the day off, and with nice weather even more of it can happen in advance. With the early delivery of the aforementioned fencing this time, the graveyard crew's job became much easier as they could get all the basic layout and labor-intensive construction done and have all the next day to dress the set.
Usual area lights in the air I used the time to get most of the redneck area lights into the air, which after the lessons from last year received a lot more reinforcement against wind this time. I figured that despite wiggly PVC pipe and flimsy clips and reflectors, with enough tie-line lashed around their parts the big CFL fixtures weren't going anywhere.
Scary-looking [but safer] electrics The electrics look scary as usual but over the last couple of years, things have actually gotten much more safe and sensible. Circuits have been added and outlets split up, and at this point we've even got a circuit map of available power around the park. I make sure to do primary distribution on cables that can take the full current loads, before anything splits off.
Ditching wire in across the playground In an effort to eliminate the noisy generator in the middle of the field, we decided to try running all the skit tents from grid power. With the expected equipment in the tents, one circuit would suffice, so I spent a while playing "human ditch witch" trenching in one of my heavy cables right across the tot-lot area. As noted in 2008, a slanting slice into the dirt with a flat shovel and careful prying-up of the lump allows for fingertip stuffing the wire down pretty deep with minimal surface disturbance on both installation and removal. Going all the way across was a little bit of a PITA but once done and the wood chips shuffled around over the area, that wire was *gone*.

[And that shovel, I'll have you know, is older than I am -- genuine US Army issue "personnel emplacement evacuator" from 1940-something, built really well, and folds up compactly. It usually just rides around in the car, cuz ya never know when you might need one.]

The other approach would be going around the playground, which would require about 80 more feet of cable, or flying overhead which I considered but decided against since there aren't really good high points to rig to. It's tempting to consider installing something more permanent to bring power out to the field, but that's probably best left to the Park & Rec folks who could have it officially done with the right outdoor-rated parts and in a way that doesn't leech its feed from a pavilion circuit.


With so much accomplished prior to event day, we felt pretty on top of the game but there was still plenty of work to do as the rent-a-truck arrived with all the props and supplies.

Food setup in pavilion The food folks got their setup going in the pavilion, as the windward side got the usual shielding tarps not only attached, but even decorated. No staple-guns this year; we did it right using small bits of strapping and some of the old fence slats. A few easily-removable screws, and much more robust than staples as the tarp is held down over a larger area at the attachment points.
Pizza lunch Usual pizza lunch for the volunteers. We had a *lot* of the high school students helping, putting in their community-service hours for a good cause.

It might be noted that the truck is parked in kind of a strange place, and not being used for storage. Why?

Video truck inside Because of another new thing for this year: movies! The truck got set up as a projection booth to run cartoons, shorts, and trailers and entertain the people sitting around at the picnic tables. I borrowed a real professional-grade "fastfold" rear-projection screen from NESFA that gets used at various area conventions; it turns out that a 5 x 7 foot unit fits very nicely into the back of a standard box truck. I simply lashed one side of the frame to the load rail and let it sit on the floor, giving a good viewing height from outside.
Various royalty-free material was collected from places like Archive.org and contributed by local resident Jonathan Bird from his Blue World series, and assembled into an hour-long or so DVD that would simply play in a loop. Despite the campiness of material like old Casper cartoons as seen through our present-day social-media-and-lolspeak jaded eyes, I thought it was a really well put together first crack at doing this -- and done in less than two weeks. Kudos to Jonathan and Peter Brayton for making that happen *and* loaning their equipment! The FiOS fiber trunk coming into the neighborhood is probably still smokin' after carrying all those big downloads.
3D illusion tent The third new thing this year involved an extra party-tent being set up, into which were installed painted panels designed to work well with the ChromaDepth glasses from American Paper Optics. With blacklight and strobes added, along with fluorescent paint and spiderwebby stuff, sixties flashbacks would be the expected norm here but this time, in free-floating 3-D!. This turned out to be rather popular; there was a line waiting to get in for much of the evening.
A little R&R as work nears completion We were far enough ahead of the game by late afternoon that some folks were taking some well-deserved R&R instead of scrambling to get everything done before we opened for business. Weather was a *big* factor here; wind and rain can really hamper the setup process.
Late-day sunlight Kids parade setup
As event start time neared, we got a brief burst of late-day sunlight through the mostly cloudy sky of that afternoon. In the remaining daylight, kids in costume filed into the "parade ground" set up on the basketball court. Instead of a "contest", this year the decision was to just make it a parade without the competition aspect, and not only keep everyone happier but there were prizes for *all* the participants!
Evening falls over Clarke Skit tents viewed from pumpkin patch
Darkness inevitably fell, transitioning us into that spookier environment but still with plenty of area light over the high-traffic areas.
Games tent Fortunetelling
The traditional games tent kicked into high gear, and "Madame Kaye" said she'd never been *that* busy telling fortunes in any past year. We got a *lot* of people this time, and again, weather was one of the primary factors governing that.
Buried treasure area The usual treasure dig, set up with the booth in the middle of the area instead of at the outer periphery this time for better crowd flow.
Magician holding their attention Jim, our local magician, keeping the audience's attention riveted.
People staring raptly at the video Speaking of attention, the video truck turned out to be a howling success. People sat around staring *raptly* at the screen all evening -- remember, these are old cartoon reruns and movie trailers, but it held their alpha-state stare for hours. I should qualify that by saying that Jonathan Bird's segments on tiger sharks and cave diving *are* rather fascinating, but that was only part of the program. I guess if it moves and makes noise, people tend to fixate on it. In any case, this seemed to be enough of a hit that I guess we have to do it again next year.

For the record, a small Cambridge Soundworks computer speaker system of two satellites and a sub is *plenty* of power for this. We just wanted movie sound fairly localized right there, and didn't want to compete with the announcements over the main PA.

Lined up for tours But the main attraction, of course, is the park tours, which people started lining up for once they had their tickets.
Tour intro Tour guides would bring groups into a small holding area and read off a short intro; here our flannel-and-cowboy-hat-clad guides are collecting a tour together. This area near the start needed one more little bit of lighting, which I decided to make fairly dim and ghashly-green. Of course dim lighting makes for blurry pictures, but capturing the general ambience is much more important to me than ruining it with flash.

There was some effort to apply a sort of Western theme to things this year, which wasn't universal but showed up mostly in the graveyard and in the costumes that a few people were wearing.

Skits and features

Instead of putting most of my pictures in time order throughout the day, I've decided to collect them into groups for each different tour stop. So *when* they were shot is all mixed up, in favor of having a better storyline.

Indiana Jones and the Mummy

Indiana Jones skit set The Indiana Jones set presented an ancient Egyptian theme, quite well done here in the paint job.
Indy skit sound-effects The skit even included computer-generated sound effects, such as theme music and creaking coffin lids.
Indiana Jones enters Indiana Jones enters, having been searching everywhere for a particular mummy of interest.
Rehearsing the Indy skit Indy skit monsters popping out
He has to chase away various monsters that attack him, like three-headed dogs and various undead things that pop out of the walls at him. In the latter case he simply slams the door closed on it.
Indy's mummy Finally he opens the gold sarcophagus to discover the mummy ... er, *his* mummy, who gets up and chases him out to finish his homework instead of fantasizing about high adventure.

Here we're using the coffin prop as it should be, instead of it being a static setpiece in the graveyard or something.

Dancing with the Stars of Horror
The Dancing School

Dance school set The set was done to look like a glittery stage, and included a mirror-ball and pinspots.
Dancers on their set Dancers around the sign
The dance team, on set and off. They'd done up a fairly complex sign detailing all the characters.

Having these dancers stop and pose is about the only way to get clear pictures of them [and still having some daylight helps] ...

Dance school running ... because once they're off and running, they're really hard to capture.
Weird UV light on dance set I supplied one additional lighting feature for this set, producing a very deep and pure blue which helps everything fluoresce more than the tube blacklight that was also hung overhead. This came from a somewhat odd discovery about something I picked up at Big Orange.
LED bulb with one cover removed This is one of the new LED based "lightbulbs" from Philips. Not cheap but I got one just to see what it does, and it has this intriguing three-lobed construction. It turns out that to produce the "soft white" output, the underlying LED sources are this brilliant blue with a heavy UV component, and the snap-in plastic panels are broadband fluorescent and turn that into white light. White LEDs basically work the same way internally but here the diode source and the phosphor element are physically separated. So with all the panels removed, the LEDs alone produce a weird spectrum that makes a rather nice effect.

Voodoo doll captures bank bandit

Rehearsing the voodoo skit After a little back-and-forth on the mailing list about the plot, this skit turned out rather amusing. It centers around two siblings finding a doll that turns out to have certain influences on other people. Note here how the set and surrounding tent have *incorporated* the presence of the existing park bench -- entirely appropriate since the first scene is in a park. The leafy-looking bit at the right is part of a backdrop that helps carry that.
Handpainted park backdrop Unfortunately I didn't get a good front-on picture of the backdrop but I'm hoping someone else did. The scene was nicely *hand-painted* onto a big bedsheet, from Mike's conceptualized sketch of Clarke Park itself based on a couple of pictures I took for him. A really nice job , and my attempts to extract it from mostly unrelated shots don't do it justice. It's on a sheet because the original idea was to have it up in front of the second-scene set as sort of a kabuki drop, and then change it quickly in black. Since that would have been more of a cueing headache and the tent was large enough to hold both scene elements with separate lighting, it was simpler just for people to move over so the sheet wound up simply hanging in place the whole time.
A remarkable resemblance Our first voodoo victim bears a remarkable resemblance to the doll, or vice-versa, or something. No need for loose hair or fingernail clippings.
Voodoo skit bank set Scene two unfolds inside a bank, an obvious sendup of one of our local institutions.

Funny, I often feel like my own bank routinely treats me with about the same attitude illustrated here. [It's one reason I will *never* have credit cards.]

Bank robber nailed by voodoo doll Bank robber arrested
Mom and her kids, doll in tow, leave the park and go into the bank for some money and right then a robber barges in, guns a-wavin', and tries to stick up the place. While mom huddles on the ground terrified, the quick-thinking kids change the doll enough to take on the essence of the robber and use it to make him do stuff, such as throw down the gun and put his hands in the air. This gives the cop plenty of leeway to run in and make the arrest.

Pumpkin patch

Pumpkin patch in daylight The Pumpkin Patch was bigger and better yet, especially with the addition of the scarecrows with pumpkin heads. Each frame was topped by a small platform with upward-pointing nails, to help hold the pumpkin in place.
Kermit-o-lantern I was especially amused by the frog-o-lantern, and will never look at green apples in quite the same way again.
Pumpkin patch as evening falls And as expected, it looked really great as night fell.

The few electrically-lit items were powered from one of my portable battery-in-a-box inverter setups with enough capacity to run for a few hours. Most of it was candles, though, which didn't get promptly blown out like they did last year and lent that proper flickery aspect to it all.


Graveyard construction Graveyard setup
The beach always turns into the spookiest part of the show, the graveyard. It takes over a day of setup by a dedicated crew, two circuits' worth of power, and a whole bunch of props and people to staff it as frights. Tour patrons are given the option to skip this part, if they think the smaller kids might be too scared by this.
Graveyard from above A unique perspective on the graveyard: from the top of the parked truck nearby. This shows the "folded" layout, which we've decided is a more optimal path than trying to bring people out the far right end.
Mr. Saguaro Head This year also featured "Mr. Saguaro-head", in keeping with the Western theme. He's ingeniously constructed from old air-filter cartridges for big diesel engines or something like that. I expected the eyes, lips and nose to suddenly pop off any second as they had a distinctly Mr. Potato Head look.

Having been through a lot of southern Arizona this summer, I was now quite familiar with cacti of this sort. They're pretty awesome.

Fog rising from graveyard One of the best benefits of a mostly windless night is how the fog rises straight out of the graveyard, lit oddly from below, hinting at all kinds of sinister things one might find there.
Scary graves These graves were done in a similar fashion to those found in the Boot Hill graveyard, which was also a stopping point on my summer roadtrip so I could show the crew what they look like from one of my own pictures.
Graveyard shootout The regular tour guides would hand off to special graveyard tour guides here, and run back to the main startpoint for their next round. The graveyard guides had their own custom routine to bring people in and tell them about the horrors they'd discover. After seeing that [read: having elements of it jump out at them and go "yarrrgh", too] groups coming up the backside of the graveyard would be challenged by a saucy, gun-totin' lady with a serious dispute over land ownership, rapidly escalating to a fatal gunfight with the tour guide.

Nothing more to see here; this way to the Egress. Watch out for the snakes.

Around the park

Decorated park fence Symmetry in decorations
Last year we completely forgot to apply any decorations to the fence bordering the park out by the street; this year seemed to make up for that. I even took note of some nice symmetry in the setup. As usual, the brilliant blue light is from the updated LED-based rollers on the police cruiser as our finest had a detail out there managing traffic and keeping people safe.
Tot-lot keeping busy The "tot-lot" playground itself was hoppin' all evening, which is one of the reasons to have it well-lit. Some people don't realize until they come for an event that there are some pretty extensive play resources here. Which take money to install and maintain, thus the fundraiser aspect of the event.

During setup I talked to a woman with her kids who had come all the way up from Melrose or someplace, *just* to go to this park -- she didn't even know about the event yet, she just thinks it's one of the best parks around the north-burbs area and comes up here fairly often. That says a lot about what's been accomplished here.

First-stage cleanup We ran a lot of tours and cranked a lot of people through the food line; there were *no* leftovers this year. But eventually the mobs dispersed and first-stage cleanup could happen -- for the most part, throwing loose stuff into vehicles to get it out of there for the night. There'd still be plenty to do the next day, including take all the sets and lights and decorations and trimmings apart and ship it back to the storage areas.

Prior year picture sets:
[Yes, this set for 2011 lives in a slightly different subdirectory.]

_H*   111027