Photo by Chris Casella

Brain Crawl

Zombies have a bad reputation.

People complain about the continuous moaning. “Urghhhhh!!” They find it impolite.
The grotesque, rotten appearance…unbecoming.

But people mostly complain about their cannibalistic nature. You eat one person, and that’s gonna follow you around for a while.

But there is a zombie that has arisen from the ranks to dispel the stereotypes that plague them, one with a desire for redemption as great as his hunger for human flesh. That zombie is Father Seymour Rot. Rot, co-organizer and resident-zombie-maker Vanessa Williamson, and a host of other undeads will prowl Franklinton this month – not to feed on brains, but to promote awareness for zombies (of course), and to procure donations to the Mid-Ohio Foodbank.

Rot, Williamson and thousands of “walkers,” make up Zombie Walk Columbus, an annual event that promises to “raise the dead to feed the living.”

Rot began his time on this earth formerly known as Joseph Knapik, but became one of the living dead in 1978. Now you can hear him yell from the streets, “Save yourself, the Apocalypse is here! The dead walk the Earth!” Unlike most zombies, he has re-developed the ability to communicate with the living.

“Zombies are trying to reform,” he says. “Shed ourselves in a different light. (We are) not these flesh-eating savages we’ve been portrayed as.”

The necessity for an image rehab is what spurred the idea for what would become Zombie Walk Columbus.

“(We thought) what can (zombies) do to show the living that we still have a heart? It may not be beating, but we still feel that compassion for those less fortunate,” Rot said. “Support the living by walking with the dead; it’s a no-brainer.”

The Zombie Walk originated in the Short North eight years ago in the form of a flash mob of 150 people, according to Rot.

“There was an ad in the paper that got your attention, if you liked zombies,” he said. “(And) like any virus, it grew.”
In 2012, the walk had an estimated number of 1,500 zombies invading the Short North but was relocated to the Franklinton area in 2013, after a few rotten zombies drew the attention of city officials, who would then require the walk to secure police escorts, insurance, and other safety measures that the humble organization were not able to afford, said Rot.
“If you’re going to be assembling a large number of people, then these are the rules of engagement in 2014, in the city of Columbus,” he added. “If you don’t have the money it’s a challenge, but each year you learn from previous experience and you build from it.”

Williamson said that, while they don’t keep an official count, they estimate that last year’s walk gathered close to 800 zombies. Local celebrity Nina West will be this year’s Grand Marshal, leading hundreds of the living dead at the walk, which collected approximately 4,000 pounds of food and non-perishable items for last year’s trek. The walk has brought together all kinds of zombies, including a zombie marching band and a zombie SWAT team, complete with a zombie German Shepherd.

“It’s simply amazing to see people’s imagination and creativity,” said Rot. “It’s awesome.”
Rot enjoys the festive nature of the walk, but maintains that the primary goal is to collect food.
“There’s a lot of hungry people in this city and the real zombies in Washington (D.C.)… Congress, keep slashing programs to help,” said Rot. “We have fun with (the walk), but we keep our eyes on the prize.”

At the end of each walk, a group of people Rot dubs the “Charge of the Light Brigade,” “shoot” the zombies down while Rot pleads with them to show favor.

“Some zombies are lucky enough to make it through and maybe get a couple of them,” he said.

Drop Dead Gorgeous

If you wanna play with the zombies, you’re gonna have to do a little bit better than be a little extra hungover. Here are a few tips for the willing from Zombie Walk co-founder Vanessa Williamson, on doing undead the lively way:

• Lots of blood and wounds.
• Darkened eyes, darkened features…anything that makes you look a bit on the dead-side.
• Be creative, and think outside the pine box. “I saw Navy zombies that were wrapped in seaweed and netting, it was really cool,” recalled Williamson with a groan.

Zombie Walk Columbus will be held in Franklinton on September 6 at 4:30 p.m. For more, visit www.facebook.com/zwcolumbus.

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