Zombie Apocalypse in Geneva draws big crowd looking to avoid ‘the undead’
By Denise Linke For Sun-Times Media October 30, 2013 9:46AM
Human survivors savor their success in the park's south end pavilion.. | Denise Linke ~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 2, 2013 11:56AM
Screams filled Wheeler Park recently, as Fox Valley residents got an early taste of Halloween.
Terrified residents raced from one shelter to the next, trying to keep one step ahead of the fiends who stalked them in the dense fog. Many, unfortunately, did not survive.
But even the dead said they had a frightfully fun time at the Geneva Park District’s first Zombie Apocalypse event, which drew more than 200 people. The live-action send-up of popular zombie-themed video games even attracted a number of young families, despite the Park District’s recommendation that participants be teens or older.
“It was awesome,” exclaimed Geneva resident Jeanne Letizia, who ran the zombie gantlet with her husband, Jim; 10-year-old daughter Annabelle; 8-year-old son Gabe; and two of their children’s friends.
“We come to Wheeler Park all the time, so our kids are very familiar with it,” she said. “It got a little scary at times, but they knew it was all in fun. Our whole family had a great time.”
“My boys love playing zombie games, so this will be fun for them and good exercise, too,” said St. Charles resident Carolyn Minear, as she sent her two pre-teen sons to join the starting line.
“Have fun, and don’t get eaten!” she told them.
Groups of apocalypse “survivors” took a cobweb-festooned bus from the park’s south parking lot to the north lot, where the course began. Each group had a guide, played by a Geneva High School Drama Club member. The guides explained their mission: to get through the zombie-controlled park alive, find survival tools at the four “safe zones” along the way, and arrive at the end point with at least one of their two “life flags” as well as the tools they’d collected.
Survivors received T-shirts displaying the message “I Survived the Zombie Apocalypse,” while everyone got the chance to win Halloween trinkets by playing trivia games with staff members of radio station 103.9 The Fox, which co-sponsored the event.
Meanwhile, members of the Key Club chapters at Geneva and Batavia high schools, plus a few other volunteers, made themselves up as zombies and roamed the park, preying on the residents by stopping them and snatching their life flags.
“It’s basically flag football with a Halloween twist,” said Park District marketing director Traci Wicks, who organized the event.
After arriving at the endpoint, participants shared “war stories” as if they’d really battled the undead.
“There were a couple of reasons why I died,” asserted 10-year-old Mikey Caliendo of Geneva. “My guide was too slow. She couldn’t run fast enough to escape the zombies, but when I ran ahead of her I didn’t know where I was going, so I ran into a whole bunch of zombies. I didn’t see them until it was too late.”
The fog-drenched darkness, relieved only by a few lights that illuminated the generators and sound equipment, made the ambiance more spooky for some but distracting for others.
“I was more worried that I’d run into a tree than about being killed by zombies,” commented 14-year-old Geneva resident Ryan King.
The glowstick bracelets and necklaces participants wore made them easy targets for the zombies, reported zombie Chase Malinowski of Geneva.
“The spooky atmosphere makes it easy to stay in character,” he added.
Overall, the event made people feel like they were in a video game come to life.
“It was kind of overpowering,” said 15-year-old Emily Franklin of Geneva. “Gangs of zombies came at you out of nowhere. They kept grabbing my ankles to keep me from getting away. My friend was one of the zombies, but it was still scary.”
But Franklin said that she’d attend the Zombie Apocalypse again if the Park District offers it next year.
“I kept feeling like a loudspeaker should come on and say, ‘Welcome to the 75th annual Hunger Games,’” she said.