Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
All this week, Rusk has been a happenin' place.
There are quilts and art shows to delight the eye, carnival rides to thrill the senses, a plethora of contests with prizes and bragging rights, and zombies.
Later today, as part of the first-ever Rusk Hollow Festival, a Zombie Run will be staged at Birmingham Forest Golf Club, and people have been clamoring to register as stumblers and chasers – roles that the zombies will play in the run.
City leaders decided to revamp Rusk’s annual fall Indian Arts & Crafts festival, deciding to “start fresh and do something a little more daring” this year, said Rusk Chamber of Commerce event coordinator Connie Parsons, and Hollow Festival was born.
Rusk residents have held a long-time love for Halloween, she explained, describing “Trick or Treat on the Square” – held annually downtown on the Cherokee County Courthouse square – as one of the city’s more popular events, so a festival focusing on costumes and ghouls and things that go bump in the night was a natural move.
The unusual cross-country run event factored in when a young couple approached Parsons, asking her to please consider adding a Zombie Run to the slate of offerings.
Zombies, in case you haven’t noticed, have infiltrated popular culture in recent years, as evidenced by “The Walking Dead,” a popular TV series with a wide-spread following.
As she looked into the couples request, Parsons said she discovered the popularity of these runs in bigger cities like Dallas.
In places like Flint, Mich., a haunted house operator seized on the zombie theme, giving it a new spin: Folks visiting St. Lucifer’s Haunted Asylum loaded up their paintball guns and chased after zombies, doing their best to eradicate the undead.
“It’s pretty popular,” St. Lucifer’s Haunted Asylum manager Chris Werner told The Flint Journal. “People keep coming back.”
Meanwhile, back in Rusk, festival plans quickly began falling into place.
Local businesses – always quick to support their beloved city – were on board immediately, and larger chains like McDonald’s and Subway approached Parsons to be part of the fun, too.
That was the first time, she said, she’d ever recalled them asking to be involved to this degree.
The Rusk Hollow Festival kicked off Oct. 17, with a juried quilt show and carnival rides at the Rusk Civic Center.
Today, however, is when the bulk of events take place: A children’s costume contest hosted by the Texas State Railroad, a mummy contest; a photography contest display; an auction of jams and jellies entered in a contest, with proceeds benefitting the local Good Samaritan ministry, which sponsors a food pantry and clothes closet. There’s also an evening dance at the civic center that will offer prizes for top costumes in several categories.
But the event that probably has people talking the most? Definitely the Zombie Run.
“This is going to be crazy – not only kid-crazy, but I've had adults walk in and ask for forms to be zombies,” Parsons said.
The cross-country route winds through the Birmingham Forest grounds and finishes at the adjoining Civic Center, located at 555 Euclid St. Runners – and zombies – can register in person up through the start of the 4 p.m. event.
Cherokee County Judge Chris Davis commended organizers for thinking up such an unusual event to attract festival-goers.
“I think we always have to make fundraisers more creative, as tight as money is right now. So anything you can do, if it's something someone wants to do,” all the better, he said.
Meanwhile, he assured residents, Cherokee County is and has been zombie-proofed for years now.
“You know,” he deadpanned, “we done the best we could, zombie-proofing the county. For several years we've worked on that, but really? We're kinda leaving that to the priests and the preachers to take care of the problem. And we're encouraging more cremation, too.”
Chances are, he will probably just be watching from the sidelines, because “I don’t run. And I don’t like being chased either, because I don’t run very fast,” Davis said, then began laughing. “I usually get caught real quick, it's a short chase.”