Lexington’s premiere Horror and Paranormal convention returned to the Lexington Center just in time for the Halloween season with record-breaking attendance.
I caught up with event manager Jeff Waldrige at a booth where The Walking Dead star Chandler Riggs was signing autographs. I suppressed my urge to give the kid a fist bump and followed Jeff to one of the rare quiet spots in the convention area. He admitted the convention’s success was shocking. “When you look at the convention scene, we are still in the infant stages. Five years is nothing for a convention. Usually it takes fifteen to twenty to really blow out of the water.” Attendance grew from 12,000 last year to an estimated 15,000 this year. Scarefest organizers aren’t letting their growth plateau just yet; next year they plan on doubling the size of the convention.
On Saturday, lines were stretching down the long hallways in the Lexington Center filled with fans waiting to meet their favorite horror actors or paranormal TV personalities. Ghost chasers were peddling fancy investigation technology next to horror fans selling Freddy Krueger action figures. Tarot readers were telling futures and new-age spiritualists were selling healing crystals.
Convention co-founder Patti Starr of Ghost Chasers International said, “We came up with Scarefest in 2006. Jeff Waldrige (he’s a former student – I teach ghost hunting) asked me one day if I would be interested in doing a horror convention. And I’m not too much into horror so I said ‘not really, but let me ask you something, has there ever been a horror and paranormal convention?” One year later the Lexington Center was booked and the first convention took place in 2008.
Maybe the rapid growth can be attributed to the crossover appeal of horror and the paranormal. Considering the staggering attendance records, how did someone not think of this before? Waldrige said that the convention was not without its critics. “We had critics out the yin-yang who said it wouldn’t work. Well the thing is, we did it. We didn’t listen to them and we did it and it worked… What helps us is that you have both the paranormal stars and the horror stars who each draw their own crowd. Then you got the cross genre crowd who will come for both.”
So what does a convention like this mean for the city of Lexington? “I think what we’ve done is show these other groups that we can do this in Lexington and Lexington can support it. I’m excited about that!”
Lexington’s prime location at the crossroads of I-75 and I-64 makes it an ideal spot for this kind of draw. Events like this (and the Bourbon Chase’s finish line celebration which happened Saturday in adjacent Triangle Park) can be economic steroids.