The coffeehouse at Windber’s Grand Midway Hotel has been a weekly rollercoaster since we recently reopened on Saturday nights. Last week was very encouraging with a very decent number of paying customers, including people seeking guided tours of this small Pennsylvania coal town’s famously haunted late 19th Century hotel and buying some esoteric gift items/souvenirs. In contrast, things were quite dead last evening. As one of our comparatively tiny group of attendees noted, the same could be said about the whole town. Foot traffic, beyond the occasional dog walkers or kids on bicycles, was basically nonexistent.
This was especially disappointing because the owner (Blair Murphy) had received considerable good publicity just days ago, upon revealing the results of the ‘secret mission’ that had him out of state all of the previous weekend. This was covered with front page stories in both of the area’s daily papers: The Johnstown Tribune-Democrat and The Somerset Daily American. Example:
The history behind this: Literary superstar Anne Rice was once a big collector of high quality, mostly porcelain dolls (some life-sized, others smaller; both fairly new and genuine antiques). When she moved out of New Orleans, her collection stayed behind in her former residence, which was converted into a museum. This recently closed, Blair (a former resident of Crescent City himself) learned about it and said he’d provide these dolls with a new, good home. And so Blair’s car and the u-haul hitched to it made the long roundtrip here, where the collection will get its full-scale unveiling at Dracula Con 2019, his annual pre-Halloween event!
In the above image, Blair is on the far right and the “guy” next to him is one of the larger dolls, a life-sized and kind of spooky fiddler dressed in authentic period garb (circa 1800 or so). By the time the big event rolls around, he should have his other arm, violin and bow again attached. But even now, the exquisite detail work (of famed sculptor Thomas Kuebler) is very impressive and, at the moment, he stands ready to great anyone entering the Midway.
While most of the collection is already secured elsewhere, a smaller figure (depicting Rice’s most famous vampire character) is currently deployed atop the coffee-bar to further greet new arrivals. These were, as noted above, few and far between this evening. Oddly, those visitors we did have (a literal handful) were all people well known around here, yet they had not made the scene in some months.
One of these was Mark the Magician. Those familiar with Blair’s movie Zombie Dream may recall Mark in this locally-produced epic, as the actor portraying Thomas Jefferson in the movie-within-the-movie (and going slightly crazy when the zombies attack):
He won’t be performing at Dracula Con this year, but a friend of his will be and Mark talked to Blair about arranging a walk-through, so they can plan for his part of the big night.
With few paying customers, Blair and his “staff” (me and Synthia) found multiple ways to pass the time. Since Blair’s 3-year-old daughter was on hand (he and Luna’s Mom share custody), there was a fair amount of playing in the porch’s sandbox and till any adult viewers arrived the animated DVD version of Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn played on the bar screens:
Blair also busied himself unpacking, categorizing and arranging still more of the massive stock of used books were now have available for resale. Later still, Syn and Luna occupied one of the bar booths for a session of painting various small stones a range of bright colors.
Night had fallen before the first couple of actual customers arrived. We put on the first of night’s scheduled vampire classics:
Bram Stoker’s Dracula!
Paying visitors allowed me to bask in complements regarding my weird (homicidal?) hotel bellboy costume and to note that earlier that afternoon I’d received payment for my latest short story from a British science fiction publication. Yes, the writer’s ego must be stroked–and if I don’t do it, who will (okay, besides Syn)?
The evening continued, but Blair couldn’t locate his copy of the night’s 2nd feature (where are you hiding Interview With A Vampire?). So he fell back on Dementia 13, a low-budget directing effort from before Francis Ford Coppola graduated to big budget epics like the evening’s previous feature.
I, of course, had to note that star William Campbell was one of the few people to guest star in two episodes of the original Star Trek, playing completely different roles. Blair shared the story about how Coppola, then an unknown screenwriter, more or less tricked B-movie kingpin Roger Corman into letting him direct his script in a weekend-long burst of frenzied movie-making energy.
That’s the kind of fun trivia that pops up so frequently at these coffeehouse evenings. A pity that this time there were so few people on hand to enjoy it. SIGH.
This won’t be a concern next Saturday, as a group is taking over the entire building for a private party. Ah, but the following Saturday (October 5th) it’s back to the usual schedule: coffee perked and doors opening @ 5 PM, the 1st of a double feature of DVD movies starting @ 6 PM. Open till 10 (or a bit longer if, let us hope) a big, persistent crowd makes that reasonable.
Till then, best wishes to all. And keep the very last Saturday before Halloween (October 26) in mind for this year’s Dracula Con (a ball with live music, dancing, costumes, refreshments, surprise guests, all those fantastic dolls and numerous other surprises).