The walking dead walk again this Saturday.
The zombies had nearly trudged their way to unsuspecting West Enders, but then the police arrived and threatened to arrest the undead.
“The very first walk, we had planned to go to Short Pump Mall,” said Anthony Menez, who back in 2005 was one of many all set to don zombie makeup and slog along in Richmond’s first organized zombie walk. “But those plans got squashed by the police. They came to our meet up and said: ‘You can’t come here or else we’ll arrest you.'”
The walk’s organizer, Roger Barr, a friend of Menez, conferred with his undead to figure out Plan B. Someone blurted out Carytown. The others shrugged: sure, why not?
“I just thought it was a one-time deal,” Menez said about that 2005 walk. When the following year rolled around, Barr had already moved out of Richmond, but still wanted the zombie walk to happen. Menez and his friend Josh Bishop picked up the torch for the second year. “And I thought that was going to be a one-time deal,” Menez said. “But just kept going year after year.”
The Richmond Zombie Walk has also kept growing year after year. Menez estimates between 60 – 70 people were at the inaugural walk in 2005. “We were always curious to know how many people came each year,” Menez said. Years later, counting became impossible. In 2012, Bishop’s wife, Diane, lost track around the 600th zombie. No one’s tried to keep count since.
Now 10 years on, the annual parade of the living dead will again descend on the city’s Mile of Style.
The zombie walk is a bonafide Richmond tradition, a feat that still astonishes Menez each year. “People come to expect it, and I’m always surprised to see the amount of participants grow every year and the amount of spectators that come to Carytown on that specific day, rain or shine, just to see us,” he said.
Most Carytown businesses seem to enjoy the attention, in part because one of the rules Menez articulates before the walk is that zombies are not to go into stores or touch storefronts. Most abide by the rules.
“We always have a few zombies who are either not there or didn’t hear us, and they always end up smearing blood on the windows1 and things like that,” Menez said. “And it still kind of gets to me: ‘Oh, man. We said don’t touch anything!'”
Despite the occasional bloody handprint on their glass windows, Carytown vendors seem to embrace the undead with open arms. “I know a few people who work at some of the shops in Carytown, and I ask them about it year after year,” Menez said. Those friends tell him the annual zombie apocalypse is good for business and Carytown’s appeal. “I’m glad to see that the businesses there have really accepted it and embraced it,” he said.
In 2007, the zombie walk began taking donations for the American Cancer Society. “You know, let’s turn this into a positive event,” Menez said about his thinking seven years ago. “Let’s do something with it, rather than just have a bunch of crazy people dressed up, running around in the streets.” The zombie walk raised $150 back in 2007. Last year, it raised nearly $1,000.2
In years past, the walking dead gathered at a pre-walk meet-up in Byrd Park. “But this year there’s a children’s marathon going on that we don’t want to disturb,” Menez said, to say nothing of the psychoanalysis the children might need should they find a swarm of zombies awaiting them at the finish line.
Instead, this year’s meet-up will take place at 1:00 PM in the playing fields next to the Humphrey Calder Community Center on Thompson Street. “We’re going to be collecting donations, give everybody the opportunity to take photos of each other, we’re going to have costume contests, give out prizes,” Menez said. The artist who designed the posters for this year’s event, Abigail Larson, will also be on hand to autograph prints.
Having helped zombify Richmond for 10 years, Menez said he doesn’t plan to stop. “As long as people are interested, I’m going to keep doing it,” he said. “As far as I know, I’m not stopping anytime soon.”
The 2014 Richmond Zombie Walk takes place in Carytown on Saturday, October 25th at 2:00 PM.
Photo by Ashley Jenkins