Santa Paula Times

GhostWalk 2010: Record year for stories of horror, mystery and humor

November 17, 2010
Santa Paula News

“Because I could not stop for Death, He kindly stopped for me; GhostWalk held but just ourselves And six tales of Immortality.” With apologies to Emily Dickinson


And a record crowd was delighted to stare Death in the face at the 16th Annual GhostWalk, a leisurely stroll of horror, mystery and - yes - humor, where guests meet those departed who refuse to leave - at least until you hear the tale of how they met their demise.

Far from dead were 2010 GhostWalk ticket sales, with many on the tours coming from throughout Ventura County and beyond to see the production: five stories of untimely death and one story where later death is assumed as the characters remain among the living - at least more than 110 years ago or so. Although each year the stories change, the purpose of GhostWalk - to benefit the Santa Paula Theater Center - remains the same.

Guide Nancy Nasalroad led a group on opening night, taking them not only to other dimensions but also slipping in entertaining facts about Santa Paula’s history and famous stops, not hard to do as this year’s walk was along Railroad Plaza Park and adjacent areas. Ghost stops were at several of the plaza’s notable structures such as The Mill and the Depot, and the tour also included nearby Glen Tavern Inn and First Christian Church, among others.

People attended GhostWalk with family and friends, with some groups booking an entire tour to the limit of 25 people. With groups leaving every 15 minutes from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday over a three-weekend span, the actors were required to tell “their” stories 11 times an evening, no easy task. It sure can fill out an actor’s resume: by the time GhostWalk closed out the season on Halloween night, performers told their tales more than 90 times.

Some stories were based on fact - albeit perhaps fast and loose ones - such as “The Dye is Cast” authored by GhostWalk Founder Mary Alice Orcutt Henderson, and “The Haunted Hugger” by Peggy Kelly.

“Dead Man’s Hand” by Jeff G. Rack, the co-artistic director, was based on legend. Mitch Stone’s “Take My Life, Please!” as well as “Speak No Evil” by Rack and Jim Kasmir were strictly fiction, while “The Sheriff & The Gunslinger” by Earl McPhail and Adam McPhail relied on Santa Paula history for its story with fictional characters.

After all, “Not all of the ghosts are based on real people, but all of the tales are tied to historic people, incidents, disasters, or general history of the city of Santa Paula or the Santa Clara River Valley,” according to the GhostWalk website.

Fact heavily spun into fiction, “The Haunted Hugger” by Kelly was performed by Steve MacKinnon (playing against his real life role as Santa Paula’s Police Chief) as George Anderson, the hapless victim of a curvy female stranger. But this woman has larceny more in mind than romance, although her victim is game to try to catch her - several times. MacKinnon played Anderson to a befuddled and highly amusing “T”, his rising frustration at being victimized again and again neatly countered by an uncontrollable desire to be taken once more - at least by the irresistible hugging Jezebel.

“Speak No Evil” by Rack and Kasmir, was a tale of horror performed by Taylor Kasch, whose portrayal of a deranged ventriloquist demonstrated why GhostWalkers must be at least 7 years old. But the ventriloquist’s partner was no dummy, at least when it comes to creating mayhem, and Kasch was suitably creepy as the man driven to madness by voices in his head - or were they just in his head? Graphic and horrifying, the somehow amusingly named Benjamin Derby - as played by Kasch - caused shivers amongst even the heartiest GhostWalkers.

An antidote to “Speak No Evil” was the gentle “The Sheriff & The Gunslinger” by the father and son McPhail team, who also starred in this amusing tale. In a tale of good versus evil in wild and wooly oil strike days when a hired gunslinger rides into town on the train, they banter far from good-naturedly and then shots ring out. The elder McPhail has gotten the upper hand, or rather the upper arm of the young gunslinger. But rather than getting back on that train for a ride out of town, the wounded gunslinger is taken home to his mother by his father - the sheriff he was hired to kill.

Henderson’s “The Dye is Cast” was based on a true local character who mixed business acumen with violence, but always justified the latter as self-defense. Played alternately by Gregory Seymour or Mark Lichtenberger, the tall dark and armed Joe Dye is finally done in by a woman, albeit in a roundabout way. Joe’s tale gave both actors opportunities to train a cold and steely eye on audience members, who were allowed to see Dye’s innate charm when taking a break from being a ruthless gunman.

“Dead Man’s Hand” was a repeat authored by Rack that allowed Louie Hengehold or Mark Halstead - who alternated in the role - to bust their chops as Calvin. Legend has it that Calvin is a Glen Tavern Inn resident ghost whose real life obsession with cards included tucking a few away for later use. It’s just this nasty habit that spells the demise of Calvin, whose own disbelief and denial of his ultimate fate made the audience laugh and almost feel sorry for the shameless card shark, who now can’t find peace, or a seat at a game.

“Take My Life, Please!” by Stone mixed standup comedy with a comic who refused to lie down. Kirk Martin was the perfect joke-challenged comedian whose big break - appearing before an audience including the great Milton “Uncle Milty” Berle - is permanently interrupted by any comic’s greatest fear: dying in front of the audience. Kirk was able to hold his own with audience reactions - rim shorts coming fast and furious not only during his monologue, but during his adlibs.

This year GhostWalk saw a 38 percent year-over-year increase in attendance, perhaps helped by a listing in the Automobile Club of America’s Westways magazine’s “5 Worth the Drive.”

And this year’s event found the perfect venue, said longtime GhostWalk volunteer Anne Beach Randall. “The Railroad Plaza area was great,” with various stops offering a natural stage.

“ ‘The Haunted Hugger’ was at the Mill,” performed in front of a side door accessed from a ramp and balcony, while “The Sheriff & The Gunslinger” was staged on the raised area between the Ventura County Agricultural Commissioner’s office and the so-called fumitorium, where citrus pesticide treatments were applied long ago. “And ‘Take My Life, Please!’ was inside the Depot,” and “Speak No Evil” inside the First Christian Church, both venues Randall said provided “a place for the audience to sit and enjoy the show!”