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Halloween with Allan Gurganus

Friday from the Archives: “Halloween’s Herald of Democracy: Allan Gurganus and the Horror Show of American Politics” by Zackary Vernon from NCLR 2014  

Recently the podcast 27 Views quoted NCLR in their episode Allan Gurganus and the Haunting of Hillsborough. Given this shout out and the fast-approaching holiday we felt this would be a good opportunity to reach back into NCLR’s past and introduce our readers to Zachary Vernon’s exploration of Allan Gurganus’s creepy Halloween tradition. 

Back in 2012 Vernon got the chance to not only speak to Gurganus about his yearly haunted house, but to join in the action as a comedic Abraham Lincoln. Vernon’s time in Gurganus’s house was quite the experience, including a trip “into the dark, dirt-floored basement” to retrieve “three rough-hewn coffins of varying sizes.” 

Gurganus’s friendly warmth and sense of humor is on full display throughout Vernon’s article, but this pageant does not only cater to ghosts and ghouls. As Gurganus told Vernon “I became aware that Halloween is a time when country kids come to town, and I have access to vulnerable young minds that can be bent and shaped. So I began teaching lessons and making the content of the haunted house have some redeeming social value instead of just being scary.” Gurganus’s haunted house showcases political skits dressed up for the spooky occasion, including an untrained funeral director struggling with the recent economic downturn and “a “death panel” for zombies that would sentence some of them to death and penalize others for lacking proper insurance.” 

Overall, what both Vernon and the 27 Views podcast highlight about Gurganus’s haunted house is the sense of humor and community that encompass the event and the people involved. “The pageant’s players similarly emphasize this sense of community, and without exception they see Gurganus and the continually evolving Halloween pageant as the heart of their particular group.” This October join NCLR and 27 Views in celebrating Allan Gurganus’s Halloween pageant and its atmosphere of “playful anarchy that carries with it a genuine sense of authenticity, freedom, and acceptance.” Don’t forget to grab some candy from the baby coffin on your way out! 

photograph by Lynn Badia, from NCLR 2014
Listen to the 27 Views episode on Allan Gurganus here
Read Zackary Vernon’s essay here, or order the 2014 issue for your collection.