FORT WAYNE – T.A.G. Art Company’s Zombie Machine was going full blast Saturday afternoon in a parking lot behind the Fort Wayne Firefighters Museum.
People were queued up as far back as Wayne Street for a chance to shamble away from Library Plaza as soldiers in the army of the undead.
T.A.G. Art did not send away many dissatisfied customers, judging from the smiles on the faces of the people who had come downtown to have their natural smiles obscured, if not obliterated, by face paint depicting moldering lips.
As a precursor to Zombie Walk, Fright Night’s zombie parade, Zombie Machine seemed to be a rousing success.
The Downtown Improvement District’s fifth annual Fright Night, an event commemorating Halloween and glorifying downtown, happened Saturday in various locales.
Throughout the afternoon, eight makeup artists worked diligently under a tent to prepare hundreds of people for a theatrical traipse through downtown as a tribute to cinematic zombie invasions.
Rachel Schwartz, T.A.G. Art’s director of marketing, said 700 to 800 people went through the zombie machine last year and she expected that even more would go through this year.
“Last year, my husband dropped me off and picked me up,” she said. “When he came back, he really didn’t know what was going on. He saw everybody lined up and said, ‘This is my worst nightmare.’ ”
Thirty-four years after George Romero’s zombie movie “Dawn of the Dead” achieved notoriety for being released with the equivalent of an X rating, zombies have apparently gone mainstream.
Many of the people who waited for T.A.G. Art’s ghoulish makeover were parents and their children.
Ashley Strickland brought her 3-year-old son, Kaden.
“I just wanted him to experience some Halloween festivities,” she said. “He doesn’t get out much.”
Taylor Reinig, 9, Ally Reinig, 11, and Macy Goldenetz, 4, bit on capsules filled with fake blood as a coup de grâce to having their faces painted.
“It tasted a little nasty at the beginning,” Ally said. “It doesn’t taste so bad at the end.”
“It tasted like chocolate milk to me,” Taylor said. “Gross chocolate milk.”
One might say that the creature Taylor planned to portray during Zombie Walk departed from the norm, if anything like a “norm” could have been established.
“I’m Draczom,” he said. “Dracula is a killer and a zombie is a killer so I put them together.”
Ally’s strategy for emulating a zombie walk was to drag one foot, while Macy’s was to imitate Frankenstein’s monster.
Taylor’s was to be “lazy.”
“I just keep my arms lazy and keep my head cracked or straight,” he said.
Kaitlin Gelwicks used Fright Night festivities to celebrate her fifth birthday.
The tiara-wearing girl said she was a zombie princess and did a claws-out zombie impersonation that was kitten-cute.
Fort Wayne’s Beth Miller brought her two kids – Ethan, 8, and London, 5.
Miller said her family is crazy about Halloween.
“We love decorating and watching movies and going to the Halloween stores,” she said.
The Millers have even figured out a way to get two holidays in the guise of one.
They trick or treat in Monroeville on Oct. 30 and in Fort Wayne on Oct. 31, Miller said.
As for the official holiday, which happens on the 31st, Ethan Miller knew all about it.
“On Halloween night when the moon is full, some of ’em just come out of their graves,” Ethan said, referring to the zombies.
“Just some of them?” the reporter asked.
“All of ’em,” Ethan answered, grimly.
The reporter suspected as much.
London Miller had even worse news.
“Zombies have blood on them, and they eat you,” she said.
“Doesn’t that make you scared?” the reporter asked.
“If they were real,” London admonished the foolish reporter.
At 5:30 p.m., the streets of downtown Fort Wayne filled with thousands of unreal but enthusiastic zombies, creating an atmosphere that was both festively funereal and funereally festive.
Two of the participants were dressed as a bride and groom, which was more than a frivolous gesture on their parts.
Jodi Leamon said she recently got engaged to Dustin Flaugher.
Flaugher said nothing. He only grunted.
They’re getting married in more traditional fashion next summer, Leamon said, but they thought it might be fun to feign mock zombie nuptials at Fright Night.
Leamon said a zombie wedding “kind of” gave her a preview of what a real wedding might be like.
“Well, he’s never seen me in a dress before,” she said. “Not a wedding-dress-type thing.”