Nightmare on Chicago Street
Zombies scare up Halloween fun in Elgin, Illinois

By Margaret Doyle


My boyfriend, Milo, and I love Halloween. Every fall we find different ways to celebrate our favorite holiday, whether it’s screaming our waythrough a haunted house, braving a spooky tour through a cemetery or picking out the perfect pumpkin for a ghastly jack-o’-lantern at a country pumpkin patch.

Last year we discovered the coolest Halloween event yet: Nightmare on Chicago Street. But Nightmare is not your typical fall festival. It’s a ghostly happening that takes place on the downtown streets of Elgin, Illinois. Here’s the concept: the Zombie Apocalypse has come to Northern Fox River Valley and the only place for the uninfected to escape the hordes of walking dead is the Safe Zone on Chicago Street. But with caged zombies and their sympathetic supporters marching the streets in protest, is the Safe Zone really all that safe?


Come in costume

More than 12,000 people—including Milo and me—attended Nightmare last year, with many dressing up in amazing costumes for the occasion. Some of my faves were the vampire Abe Lincoln (so Illinois!), lead singer of the rock band Kiss—complete with full black-and-white makeup and leather gear—and the creepy monster from the movie Alien.

There was even a costume contest emceed by none other than the hilarious Svengoolie. If you’re not familiar, Svengoolie is an Alice Cooper-looking character who hosts a Saturday night MeTV show featuring old so-bad-they’re-good horror flicks. Competition was stiff, coming down to an audience vote for the beautiful but evil sister of Maleficent versus a ghoulish version of beloved TV duo Vanna White and Pat Sajak from Wheel of Fortune (spoiler alert: Vanna and Pat won). Milo and I are already working on our costumes so we can join in the contest fun this year (think Game of Thrones).


Freaks and geeks

Back in the Safe Zone, among the apocalyptic scene of overturned cars and trashed storefronts, we happily danced with our fellow revelers to the rock bands that performed on the outdoor stages. Flash dance mobs of zombies would break out on the streets, joined by exotic fire dancers who tried to tame the undead beasts. We also checked out some wicked artwork and watched mere mortals transformed by chic zombie makeup at Side Street Studio Arts. The Side Street Side Show Stage offered guilty pleasures that included a sexy burlesque showcase and a gathering place for steam punks at Oasis Hookah Lounge.

Perhaps most bizarre was the Techno Stage and Cirq d’Freak Show, featuring a cringe-worthy fire-eating show, hypnotic living statue and a heavily tattooed strongman named Titano. We personally appreciated the performers from Acrobatica Infiniti Circus, which is also known as Nerd Circus because the troupe melds the arts of cosplay and circus. Imagine, if you will, an acrobatic Wonder Woman flipping through the air, the Green Lantern hula hooping ten rings at a time or snarky Deadpool defying gravity. The international group of trapeze artists, contortionists, acrobats and jugglers are all in on the joke, performing their amazing feats with a healthy dose of superhero humor. Near the Techno Stage, we sat and watched a talented team of graffiti artists work their spray cans and leave their marks on the colorful Graffiti Wall.


Stroll the streets

We also took time to browse the variety of vendors set up in the zombie-free zone. I picked up a handcrafted gothic skull necklace and had my tarot cards read by a mysterious fortune teller (all good news). Milo was fascinated by the antiques and oddities, particularly the bug art and old apothecary bottles (what is it with boys and bugs?). The food vendors proved to be way too enticing. Auntie Vee’s served up a killer red velvet deep-dish cookie. Ruthella’s turned out authentic New Orleans cuisine, including spicy gumbo and jambalaya. And we had to sample a fall fest favorite: piping hot funnel cake dusted with powdered sugar.

Of course, we couldn’t set out to battle zombies without some liquid courage. Elgin Public House was pouring craft brews at its booth. Milo decided to drink local, opting for Ebel’s Weiss from Two Brothers Brewing in suburban Warrenville. I went with the Martini Room and its award-winning Smoking Gun, which was voted best martini in the suburbs last year by Absolut Vodka and the Daily Herald newspaper. It’s an unusual but delicious combination of homemade rosemary-infused vodka mixed with blueberry simple syrup and lemon juice. Yum!


What’s next

Of course, no two versions of this event will be ever be the same. This year, we’re looking forward to a medical component. Picture: operating tables, surgeons, body parts being sewn together and I heard something about tanks showcasing the process of humans becoming zombies. Oh, the art of gore! Nightmare on Chicago Street takes place on Saturday, October 22nd from 6 to 11 pm. We will definitely be there in full costume. Will you?