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Midway At The Grove

IN THE October 13 ISSUE

FROM THE 2012 Articles,
andArts & Entertainment,
andLorie Lewis Ham
SECTIONS

by Lorie Lewis Ham

When you go to The Grove Haunt in Sanger it’s not just about the scary attractions, it’s also about what’s going on in the Midway–which is essentially what it sounds like–it’s right in the middle of everything. While I haven’t had the chance to make it out this year, I went several times last year, as my daughter was working there, and I really enjoyed hanging out in the Midway. There are some cool fire pits to warm yourself by, some entertainment, shops and fun food.

But the best part are the characters that wander around and provide entertainment while you wait. It’s fun to just watch them chat with the people waiting for their turn at an attraction, or warming themselves by the fire. These actors remain completely in character the whole time and it’s really a lot of fun not only to watch but to interact with them. So I thought it would be fun to introduce you to three of the main, long time characters–Billybob (Chris Giese), Ralf (Ben Camacho) and Professor Phineas T. Phantasma (Mitchell Ralston). We may even get a chance to talk to the characters themselves!

Interview With Chris Giese:

KRL: How long have you worked at the Grove?

Chris: I have worked at the Grove (formerly Hobb’s Grove) since we first opened in 1999. That’s 13 years.

KRL: Who is your Midway character? Tell us about him?

Chris: My Midway character is Billybob. He is a silly, goofy looking hillbilly that entertains people with humor while they stand in line.

Billybob

KRL: How did you come up with this character?

Chris: I came up with the character the first year we opened when we had a couple of used travel trailers donated to us. The owner, Lore Callahan wanted me to be the trailer trash in the scene.
So, I put together an outfit that I thought would work for my character. Billybob was born!

KRL: Do you use this character anywhere other than the Grove?

Chris: Yes. I have been hired to play Billybob at several family reunions. He has appeared at the annual Bluegrass festival we have here at The Grove, and recently, Billybob appeared on stage at Reedley’s Opera house performing with Reedley’s River City Theatre Company.

KRL: Is it hard to stay in character all night?

Chris: No. For me it’s very natural to stay in character all night. Once I put on the costume and my fake teeth, Billybob takes over and Chris doesn’t exist.

KRL: Do you stay in the Midway or do you ever go in the other parts of the Grove?

Chris: I don’t just stay on the Midway. I go to every queue line for the entire event. The house, forest and hayride lines, constantly revolving through all of them. And from time to time I will go through the attractions, but only if it is requested by a customer.

KRL: What exactly is your job there as this character?

Chris: My job as Billybob is to entertain people and make them laugh. Anyway I can. I do a lot of improve as Billybob. And people seem to really enjoy him.

KRL: What do you like best about this job?

Chris: The best part of my job as Billybob that I like the most is interacting with the customers. I am a completely different person when I am in character. To the customers, I am Billybob and they believe that he is a real person. Not just a guy in a costume.

KRL: What is the hardest part?

Chris: The hardest part is the month of October. I am constantly working, from morning to night. Never a moments rest. But then I guess what’s really hard for me is when it is all over and I have to wait for the next season.

KRL: Do you interact with the other characters or just the patrons?

Chris: I interact with all of the other characters. Not just the patrons.

KRL: Have you done other acting?

Chris: Yes. I have acted in several independent movies. Most of them have been filmed entirely or in part at The Grove. I have been in a Wendy’s commercial as Abraham Lincoln. And I have been in several shows on stage with Reedley’s River City Theatre Company.

KRL: What is your day job?

Chris: When I am not working at The Grove I am a Realtor with London Properties.

KRL: Anything else you would like to share?

Chris: I am thankful to Lore Callahan for giving me the opportunity to be creative with my acting talents and I am very grateful for all of my fans.

Interview With Billybob:

KRL: How do you like working at the Grove?

Billybob: I don’t really work at the Grove. I live here! Along with my beautiful wife Delma Loo and our 11 beloved young’ns. But I do work hard at grow’n pumpkins for all of the little ones that come out here to pay us a visit. But I enjoy doing that. So it’s not really work.

KRL: Tell us a little about yourself.


Billybob:
Well I’m a very wealthy man. I have a loving wife and several dear children. I have a donkey ( his name is Arnold) and the nicest trailer in all of The Grove. And I am fortunate enough to have my own shinly gold tooth! It makes my very attractive!

KRL: What do you do when not at the Grove?

Billybob: Not at the Grove? I’m always at the Grove. It’s my home sweet home!

KRL: Anything you would like to say to people thinking about going to the Grove this year?


Billybob:
They should stop thinking about it and just come on out. It’s the funest place on earth. We have people that come from all over California, all over the country and ever from other countries. Just to see us! After they pay us a visit, they’ll understand why. And!.. they will want to visit us again and again and again. Just like everyone else.

Interview With Ben Camacho:

KRL: How long have you worked at the Grove?

Ben: I’ve worked at The Grove for 13 years including this year. But I’ve worked for Lore for a total of 18 years.

KRL: Who is your Midway character? Tell us about him?

Ben: His name is Ralf, (no, not misspelled) He’s half rat and half wolf, his eyes have a low red glow,
his ears move, as does his jaw when he talks.

Ralf

KRL: How did you come up with this character?

Ben: Lore had just returned from a haunt convention and I was given a pair of Poweriser stilts with instructions to think of something, and it turned out she had some latex skins for them. At first I thought ‘aha! A werewolf! But then I thought every other haunt has a werewolf of some kind. And so Ralf evolved from that. He’s not a were anything, just himself.

KRL: Do you use this character anywhere other than the Grove?

Ben: Yes, I have, Year of the rat Chinese New Years parade, last Christmas at the Sierra Vista Mall in Clovis, and a haunt in Reedley two years ago.

KRL: Is it hard to stay in character all night?

Ben: It’s easy to remain in character, Ralf is hard to forget when I’m wearing him, I just ignore any one who calls my name, like you would, if someone called you Patty.

KRL: Do you stay in the Midway or do you ever go in the other parts of the Grove?

Ben: He stays mostly on the Midway, but he will wander into the lines for the other events, because of his height (6 foot 12) he tends to stay outside. Some times he will talk to patrons in the food areas, and at the end of the night, he waits by the exit and says goodnight to those leaving.

KRL: What exactly is your job there as this character & what do you like best about it?

Ben: Meet and Greet with a not so scary character, pose for pictures, (sometimes for as much as a half hour at a time (one after another after another), tell jokes, dance with the kids, direct patrons to the entrances and exits of the events and generally directly interact with the patrons. And as to what I like best–all of the above.

KRL: What is the hardest part?

Ben: He’s just so friendly, that seeing frightened children being forced by parents to confront some of the characters can be hard. And preteens with that aggressive attitude, you know the type, something to prove to the other group members. (No fun there.)

KRL: Do you interact with the other characters or just the patrons?

Ben: Yes he interacts with anyone and any…err…thing, some times even low tree branches!

KRL: Have you done other acting?

Ben: Oh yes! Quit a list of characters, from a big black cat to a cuddly teddy bear, rabbits to mountain lions, space military to a pirate and even being hired to perform corporate mascots.

KRL: What is your day job?

Ben: My day job involves office machine repair, printers, fax machines, typewriters dictation equipment and scanners, both in shop and in customer’s offices, some times traveling as much as 250 miles in a day.

KRL: Anything else you would like to share?


Ben:
I love working here at the Grove, it’s like a big family, nothing like it anywhere else. Why else would I work with Lore for 18 years?

Interview with Ralf: (Ralf kind of took over this interview lol)

Hi, you need to ask me some questions? Sure, go ahead, ask away!

How do I like working at the grove?

What? This is work? I love it! Meeting people and helping the lost!
Sometimes they’re one and the same! So, how can I help you? Oh, right, back to your questions.

Tell you a little about myself?

Well, I was born here at The Grove and I sleep on the third floor of the main house.
Oh, you want more? O.K., I’m half rat and half wolf, that’s how I got my name, Ralf. Why does almost everyone laugh at that? Rat plus wolf, Ra from rat and lf from wolf, get it?

No, I don’t bite, like the wolf-rats do, nasty brutes.
No, I didn’t lose my tail, never had one to begin with.

I generally help around the place. Billybob and I get along well, and Thelma-Loo makes a mean possum pie! Such a light flaky crust! Uhmmm! Uhmmm! Oh, sorry, um I’m six foot twelve, I eat mostly veggies, I tried kid once, didn’t like it, chewy and stringy, what? NO! kid as in goat! How could you think I would do such a thing? I mean really! Humph…

O.K. apology accepted.

What do I do when not at The Grove?

Other than occasional trips with Billybob to the store down the road, I don’t go much of anywhere. Some day I would like to visit Fresno, and then maybe the sea.

Something to say to people thinking about coming to The Grove?
Sure. Come on down to The Grove and visit us! You will love it! If you think it’s too scary, you can stay in the midway and enjoy the atmosphere! Sit by the fire pits and have some hot chocolate!

Alright, anything else you want to know? Porta-potties are over there.

Interview With Mitchell Ralston:

KRL: How long have you worked at the Grove?

Mitchell: I began working at the Grove (then called Hobb’s Grove) in 2004, in 2009 I began working at Disneyland and the Grove wasn’t open in 2010 so about six years.

KRL: Who is your Midway character? Tell us about him?

Mitchell: My character is Professor Phineas T. Phantasma, a former world traveler and collector of esoteric supernatural oddities (his sideshow included Vampires, Werewolves, Harpies and other creatures thought to be nothing but myths and legends save for the elusive ghost) attempting to capture a real live “so to speak” ghost, he died under mysterious circumstances and is now cursed to haunt the Grove.

Professor Phineas T. Phantasma

KRL: How did you come up with this character?


Mitchell:
I was inspired by wacky Horror Hosts like Ghoulardi, Zacherlie, Svengoolie, and Elvira. So when I was asked to be on the Midway I jumped at the chance to make my own horror host character. At times, he’s equal parts Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, and Barnabas Collins mixed in a blender with all social restraint removed.

KRL: Do you use this character anywhere other than the Grove?

Mitchell: He’s the evolution of a mortician/gravedigger character I portrayed at a charity haunt I did in High School, but he has yet to venture beyond the gates of the Grove. I plan to start my own midnight Horror Host show where the Professor will be hosting awful B-Movies with his wacky friends, using his debonair charm and rapier wit.

KRL: Is it hard to stay in character all night?

Mitchell: The second I put on his coat and top hat, and the makeup is on, I am Professor Phantasma. Most actors at the Grove still haven’t seen me outside of character. The problem is not staying in character, it’s breaking character when I get home.

KRL: Do you stay in the Midway or do you ever go in the other parts of the Grove?


Mitchell:
I wander through the lines, I stalk the Midway, I’ll find children who are scared and protect them from the monsters. I’ll find families that I tell spooky stories to and they beg me to come with them through the haunted forest. I’ll hold the hand of a sweet little old lady on the hayride (I’m a gentleman that way)…but you can mainly find me haunting the Midway.

KRL: What exactly is your job there as this character?

Mitchell: Midway monsters are the “safe” monsters. We are the first, and last, monsters you see. We ease you into the other worldly atmosphere of the Grove. When you walk onto the Midway and see a nine-foot rat wolf hybrid, and a blinking ghost you realize you’re in for a fright. We are weird, creepy, and spooky, and sometimes yes even scary. But beware the monsters of the Grove are hungry for your fear…and sometimes even the safety of the Midway is misleading…there just might be something lurking…in the dark shadows.

KRL: What do you like best about this job?


Mitchell:
Each and every one of us on the crew are like a huge family more than coworkers, we look forward eagerly to the new season and to seeing each other again. For some of us we work out our aggression from our day jobs and our everyday lives with scaring people. For me it’s an escape…I get to be a smarmy smart aleck ghost, what’s not to love about that?

KRL: What is the hardest part?

Mitchell: Waiting a whole year to do it all again.

KRL: Do you interact with the other characters or just the patrons?

Mitchell: The other characters are all friends with the Professor; we all live in the weird community of the Grove and are glad to be spooky hosts to the guests. Some of the best times for guests is when two or more of the monsters are interacting and bouncing quips and retorts off each other.

KRL: Have you done other acting?

Mitchell: Ages ago I did community theatre in Fresno, and I grew up doing theatre in Hanford and in High School I was in every show, I have a background in improv, and I worked three years on the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland (which is like haunted house acting, only you’re doing a show every seven and a half minutes)

KRL: What is your day job?

Mitchell: I currently am an Educational Guide at the Zoo teaching kids about the wonderful animal friends they can make there. (did you know a giraffe’s heart is about the size of a basketball and weighs twenty-four pounds?)

Interview With Professor Phineas T. Phantasma:

KRL: How do you like working at the Grove?

Professor: Working? My dear…I am not working. I’m cursed to forever wander the grounds of the Grove. At least until the day I find where my earthly remains are hidden, and repair the broken spectro-Phantasmograph (my invention which was meant to capture ghosts for my freak show…but ended up capturing my soul) ahhh but now I’m rambling…tell me, I haven’t been up with my Television viewing the past few decades…can you tell me who shot J.R. on Dallas?

KRL: Tell us a little about yourself?


Professor:
I was born in 1897 to Mimsie Phantasma-née Ghoulardia and Pretorius Phantasma (I had one younger sister named Melancholia). My parents instilled in me a yearning for education, and a yearning for showbiz. When I was of age I set out to my studies, I went to the Miskatonic University in Arkham, Mass. There I studied under Professor Herbert West (whom was a charming sort but had some rather…unorthodox theories on the continuation of life after death). From there I got my degree in Freak-ology in the University of Tranyslvania. After my studies I began traveling… and collecting. I had tea with the vampires of Romania, I scuba dived to the very depths of Loch Ness to give Nessie a pedicure, I was chased by the Yeti of the Himalayas, I befriended the green witch of the Black Forest of Bavaria. All during these travels, I began to gather specimens of creatures only seen in nightmares. I was set to start my own traveling show: “Phineas Phantasma’s Fabulous Freaks, Frights, Preternatural Predators, Parlors of Prestidigitations, and other Phantoms of Fears” (hey it was the early thirties, alliteration was in) My sideshow was a resounding success, but there was always one creature I wanted to show…one that I regret hunting to this very day…a real live (so to speak)…GHOST!…but that my dear, is a story for another day. Come to the Grove and catch me in the right…spirits, and I may tell you the whole gory story.

KRL: What do you do when not at the Grove?

Professor: As I said before I never am free to leave the Grove, but when I’m not busy haunting I do enjoy horror movies, only more from the golden age of the Silver-Screams. Vincent Price, Barbra Steele, Peter Lorre, Joan Crawford, as well as the numerous hit and miss B-Movie terrors of the seventies and eighties (Night of the Comet, how I love thee, let me count the ways.) Horror movies as of late seem to forget how to scare people and want nothing more but to show an autopsy while the subject is still alive. I feel that Zombies and Vampires are passé nowadays. I wait for my ghostly brethren to get their day in the limelight of terror cinema (the last good ghost horror movie was the Others, and that was mainly due to the terror of Nicole Kidman). Besides that I enjoy watching the terror of local noose…I mean news. I would just die (again) to meet Stefani BOO-rojian…

KRL: Anything you would like to say to people thinking about going to the Grove this year?


Professor:
It’s the thirteenth year of FEAR for us at the Grove, and the monsters are ready to MEAT…erm…I mean Meet you. Halloween is the time of year when the barriers between the living and the dead are at their thinnest and the creatures of night are allowed to wander the earth. Where better to enjoy this most spooky time of year than at the Grove. Each year the spirits of the Grove change and mutate, they twist your very perceptions into nightmares come alive. This being our thirteenth year you’re bound to find some new tricks…and treats like never before, and yours cruelly will be there as well! We all are just….Dieing to see you…

Check out this year’s article in KRL about what’s going on at The Grove this season & check out their event page. And don’t miss last year’s full article on The Grove where you get a bit more on their history.

Lorie Lewis Ham is our Editor-in-Chief and an enthusiastic contributor to various sections, coupling her journalism experience with her connection to the literary and entertainment worlds. Explore Lorie’s mystery writing at Mysteryrat’s Closet.

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