A look at Halloween's merry spirits

The Merry Spirits of Halloween is the first documentary produced by Redroom Creative Media, an independent documentary film company that focuses on the legends and folklore attached to historical Illinois events. Directed and co-written by Chatham resident Joseph Tury, the Illinois-based project is a fun look at the celebration of Halloween through different viewpoints and locations. The documentary tells the stories of several Illinois residents.

"House Haunt with Dr. Chris Merli is about extreme home decorating. Dr. Merli takes viewers through his Edgewater Mortuary in Mt. Zion," said Tury, who is a documentary filmmaker and the proprietor of Redroom Creative Media. In Pumpkin Patch, owner Mac Condill guides us through the Great Pumpkin Patch in Arthur, Illinois, which is a 70-acre working farm transformed each fall into a diverse Halloween experience. Ghost Story, from Illinois author Troy Taylor, spins tales of the paranormal involving Alton, known as the most haunted city in Illinois.

For Tury's first documentary, he wanted to focus on an enjoyable subject about which he was passionate and knowledgeable. "Since Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, I decided it would be a good subject that would keep my interest," he said. "I outlined some things I love about Halloween and then figured out the stories I could tell based upon those subjects. As I started filming, the project developed and changed. Initially, I wanted to have more interviews, but soon realized one person per story had a better flow."

Filming for The Merry Spirits of Halloween took place in fall 2019. Most of the editing was completed in December, narration happened in early January and the finished product was ready soon after. "Besides filming and editing, closed captioning was a big chore, as I wanted to complete the process myself to learn how to do it properly," said Tury. "Closed captioning is required for streaming services and is important in order to reach a wider audience."

The documentary is not intended to be frightening, although Tury admits the paranormal aspects can be creepy. "I wanted it to be a film that people could watch around the holidays that would put them in a festive mood for fall and Halloween," he said. "The title Merry Spirits is meant to be a play on the things about autumn and Halloween that people enjoy. Decorations, fall weather, pumpkins and spooky stories are some of the things fans of the holiday enjoy, and the film touches on those in a unique, fun way."

Troy Gorda, who served as narrator and co-writer, is not legally tied to Redroom Creative Media, but Tury considers him to be a partner in these documentaries. "I had been friends with Joe since our early 20s, but like many friendships, our lives kept us busy and we really didn't see each other much," said Gorda. "I was a little surprised when he contacted me to say he had something he wanted to talk to me about; my thoughts certainly didn't go to a documentary about Halloween. When we met, I was flattered when he explained that I would narrate and help with some of the writing." Gorda was excited at the opportunity and immediately said yes. Both were pleasantly surprised at how well they worked together and fed off each other's creative energies and experiences.

"These productions are a collaboration between myself and many local artists, musicians and creatives who mostly contribute for free," said Tury. "The main goal of any artist is to have his work enjoyed, shared and viewed. We do this because we enjoy the process and hope it brings happiness to people."

Added Gorda, "Each project teaches us new lessons that we apply to the next, but I'd have to say that Merry Spirits really taught us how much impact the subjects have on our plans, and as the song says, to hold on loosely. Each segment evolved from the initial idea and blossomed from the comments of people interviewed and featured. You must be comfortable growing with the project and adjusting your preconceptions to the material in hand."

Following the Merry Spirits documentary, Tury has other projects on the horizon, including a second documentary called Hanging Elizabeth Reed: A Ghost Story.

"It is an investigative documentary about the first woman to be hanged in Illinois. This happened in 1845 in Lawrence County," said Tury. "An estimated 20,000 people showed up for the execution. The documentary explores the circumstances of her alleged crime and the paranormal folklore that exists today regarding her ghost, and others, wandering the area."

The Merry Spirits of Halloween, as well as a separate bonus chapter, Alton Legends, is available for streaming on Amazon Prime and is free for Prime members. Current and future documentaries will also be available on Prime and other streaming services.

Eric Woods is a freelance writer and ghost walks tour guide who lives in Springfield. His fourth horror novel, Welcome to Oblivion, will be released in October.

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Haunted happenings

Boo Crew Haunted House, operated by the Rochester Lions Club, will be open for the season. However, the house portion of the attraction will not be open this year, so the attraction will focus on not only making the trail longer, but increasing the scares along the way. The number of tickets available has significantly decreased this year and will be sold only in group packs of four, five or six tickets to help comply with COVID restrictions. Time slots have decreased to 15 minutes to minimize the number of guests on site. Face masks, temperature checks and other social distancing requirements will be enforced to enter the attraction. Not recommended for children under the age of 10, although a children's matinee will be offered on Oct. 24. Visit boocrew.com for tickets or more information.

Springfield's Haunted Dead Walk is back for another Halloween season of spine-tingling tales of local haunted history, taking place every Friday and Saturday night in October. This 90-minute walking tour begins in the parking lot of the Inn at 835 and covers several of Springfield's legendary haunted sites, although there are no inside visits. At each stop, your guide will explain the history behind the hauntings and the paranormal activity. This is a great opportunity for anyone who enjoys local history and ghost stories, suitable for most ages. No reservations are needed, the cost is $10 per person due on arrival (exact change required).

Lincoln's Ghost Walk begins in downtown Springfield at the Old Capitol Plaza. It consists of a 90-minute lantern-lit walking tour in a five-block area that uses the Lincoln sites as the backdrop for strange and bizarre stories that surrounded the life and death of Abraham Lincoln. Topics examined include Lincoln's dreams of death, spiritualism, Mary's seances in the White House and bizarre happenings at the Lincoln tomb. This is a factual history tour that includes some of the ghostly lore surrounding the Lincolns. Suitable for all ages and not a scary tour. Due to COVID, reservations are required. Text 217-502-8687 or visit travelersresttours.com/springfield-walks for more information.

The 3rd Annual Dark Arts Show will be held Oct. 31 from 7-11 p.m. at Arlington's (both floors). This event will feature kids' games and activities and PG-art on the first floor, with more adult activities on the second floor. The costume contest will have five categories: best couples' costume, best kids' costume, best fictional character, creepiest costume and best handmade costume/accessories with prizes for first place. There will also be a silent auction and raffle.

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