Nerd Culture

Zombie Walk 2015 in Downtown Phoenix: A Field Guide to Saturday's Event

Let’s face it: The zombie trend is probably never, ever going to die. In fact, it’s continuing to spread. The Walking Dead expanded into a second show, zombie costuming still sells like mad at stores, and Hollywood has numerous zombie flicks on the horizon (including Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Patient Zero, and the inevitable World War Z sequel).

And then there’s the continuing popularity of the annual Zombie Walk in downtown Phoenix, which brings a teeming and groaning mass of the living dead to Heritage & Science Park every October since 2009. It’s likely to be the case at this year’s Zombie Walk on Saturday, October 24.

The event is certainly one of the biggest and most popular of the Halloween season in the Valley with tens of thousands of locals attending, most of whom are dressed in zombie costumes. R.J. Price, a spokesperson for the event, estimates that upwards of 20,000 people have attended the walk in recent years, and approximately 15,000 of them were zombified.

“Apparently, there are a large number of people that want to be a zombie for a day,” Price says. “And we give them what they want and let them come downtown for the day and just get weird.”

The day-long event is more than just the walk itself — which involves stumbling along a 1.5-mile route around the streets of downtown starting at sundown — and includes activities at Heritage & Science Park both before and after. That includes a lineup of live bands (headlined this year by alt-rockers Alien Ant Farm), food and drink vendors, and a costume contest emceed by John Holmberg of KUPD’s Morning Sickness show.

However, the main event of the evening is definitely the walk.

“People come just for the spectacle of it,” Price says. “It’s taken on a parade-like quality where Fifth Street is lined with people. There’s a lot who go to Arizona Center and hang out on the patios there to check out the zombies as they come through.”

And it's not just regular ol’ zombies that are limping through downtown, as costumed participants have turned out dressed as the monster from Resident Evil or the heroes of The Walking Dead (natch), as well as zombie versions of Kermit the Frog, Marilyn Monroe, Deadmau5, Snow White, or other characters and pop culture icons.

“We get a lot a lot of cosplay. Some people take their favorite characters or [personalities] from outside the zombie universe — superheroes, famous musicians, TV characters — and turn them into zombies,” Price says. “One of my favorite costumes from last year is two folks were the couple from the American Gothic painting as zombies and they carried a frame with them. It was really brilliant.”

One of the most attention-grabbing zombies at the event is The Gravedigger, a Valley cosplayer famous for a stunt involving skidding along the pavement on his shovel, which kicks up a shower of sparks.

“The Gravedigger has participated the last four or five years and he’s always up front during the walks,” Price says. “He's definitely a character.”

If being a member of the undead isn’t your thing, however, you can always go as such zombie killers as The Walking Dead’s Michonne or Tallahassee from Zombieland. You won’t be alone, as local cosplay groups like the Department of Zombie Defense and the Arizona Ghostbusters play the role of foils during the walk.

“Most of the folks participating in the walk are zombies because that's where the fun is: getting dressed up and moaning and limping and acting dead for a couple of hours... or undead, rather.”

While the Zombie Walk is free to attend, Price says that organizers desire something from attendees this year in exchange for participating. And no, it isn’t their brains.

Organizers are aiming to collect at least seven tons of non-perishable food items at the Zombie Walk, which will be donated to St. Mary's Food Bank. “This is the first year we're kind of asking everyone to give,” Price says. “A lot of the people have been coming to this event for years and we've never asked for a ticket. So we're really making an appeal for everyone to give something back or pay it forward.”

Price adds that healthier foods are preferred (such as canned meats, peanut butter, bagged rice, and beans) and a cash donation is even better. “Cash goes a long way, even further than canned goods, at food banks,” he says.

It’s one thing to keep in mind if you plan to attend the latest Zombie Walk this weekend, along with any of the following information contained within our field guide to this year’s event.

Date & Time:
Hordes of the undead will invade Heritage & Science Park starting at 2 p.m. on Saturday, October 24. The Zombie Walk itself begins at 6 p.m. and the event runs until 11 p.m.

Admission: While it’s free to attend the event and participate in the Zombie Walk, organizers heavily encourage participants to donate non-perishable food items or money to St. Mary’s Food Bank.

Age Limits: The Zombie Walk is considered to be a family-friendly event open to all ages. That said, however, only those 21-and-over can purchase adult beverages at the two beer gardens at the event.

The forecast on Saturday calls for clear skies and lots of sunlight. Temperatures will be 88 degrees at the start of the Zombie Walk and will eventually get down to 67 degrees by the end of the evening. In other words, seek out some shade early on to avoid sweating too much (and thus causing your makeup to run) and consider incorporating a hoodie into your costume for later.

Getting There: Heritage & Science Park is located near Seventh and Washington streets in downtown Phoenix. If you’re coming by car, you’ll want to take the Seventh Street exit on Interstate 17 or Interstate 10 and the head either north or south, respectively, towards Washington.

As always, the light rail offers less of a hassle than trying to find a parking spot in downtown. The station at Third and Washington streets is only two blocks away and fares are $2 for a single ride or $4 for an all-day pass. You can also rent a GRID bicycle (available for $5 per hour) or take your own pedal-powered two-wheeler and lock it up at one of the many bike racks that will be available.

Parking: Whatever you do, be sure to avoid trying to park in the tiny lot near Pizzeria Bianco or the Rose & Crown Pub, since it will be off-limits. Instead, head for one of the many parking structures available nearby to stash your ride. Daily rates vary per location, ranging from $5 at the Arizona Center to $12 at the ACE East Garage near the Arizona Science Center, as well as the Chase Tower and Convention Center garages.

Metered street parking throughout downtown is also an option, but it tends to be filled up the closer you get to the event. If you can find an open space, however, it costs $1 to $1.50 per hour (depending on whether you use coins or cards) up until 10 p.m.

Food and Drink: Food and Drink: Several food trucks — including Rock-A-Belly, Mustache Pretzels, SayTay Hut, 2 Fat Guys, and Orange Place — will be at the event, although no one will be serving any brains. Four Peaks will also offer a pair of beer gardens serving a variety of brews, wines, and margaritas. Beverages will also be available in commemorative cups where your first drink is $8 and refills will be $5. (Cups can also be purchased separated for $3 each.)

Water: Even though the summertime has passed (more or less), it’s still going to be warm on Saturday. Thus, it's important to stay warm since you’ll be sweating and exerting themselves during the walk. As such, a pair of free water stations will be set up at the event. Sealed bottles of H2O can also be brought into the event.

Entertainment and Activities: A half-dozen bands (ranging in sound from alternative to psychobilly) are scheduled to perform throughout the afternoon and into the evening, including The Limit Club, Playboy Manbaby, Bear Ghost, and headliner Alien Ant Farm.

Meanwhile, a “Little Zombie Zone” will be open from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. and feature the Arizona Ghostbusters and the mascots for the Phoenix Suns, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Phoenix Mercury. And the aforementioned “Zombification Zone” will help transform ordinary participants would-be brain-eaters by providing makeup, hairstyling, and costuming for $5 or a donation of five non-perishable food items. And speaking of getting dressed up...

Costumes: Chances are very like that if you’re going to the Zombie Walk, you’re going in costume. (Well, unless you happen to be an actual member of the undead, that is.) If you plan to dress up before heading to the event, local costume shops like Groovy Ghoulies in Mesa or the always-popular Easley’s have a surfeit of makeup and other costuming supplies to assist you with getting geared up.

And as we mentioned, mashups or zombified versions of popular characters are always a big hit at the walk. As are more elaborate and intricately detailed costumes. (However, you'll want to avoid anything explicit, indecent, or overly vulgar.) 

If you’re undead ensemble is creative, clever, or impressive enough, it might do well at the Zombie Walk’s costume contest. Those interested in participating are asked to gather near the Lath House at the park starting at 5:30 p.m. Their costumes will then be judged and 10 finalists will be selected to appear on the entertainment stage at 8 p.m. KUPD's morning show host John Holmberg will emcee a “crowd-sourced game show” that will determine the winners of the contest with the grand prize of tickets to the Monster Mash Music Festival featuring Rob Zombie on November 1. (A separate contest for the 12-and-under crowd will be held in the “Little Zombie Zone” starting at 4:30 p.m.)

What to Bring: A camera of some sort is almost a necessity, especially if you’d like snapshots of all the zombies. Cash is always a good idea, if you’d like to pay for your food and drink quicker than with plastic or if you plan to give a portion to St. Mary’s Food Bank. If you’d rather donate non-perishable food items, be sure to bring those along, too.

Pets are allowed at the event (especially costumed critters) but make sure they’re properly leashed. And since it’s going to be sunny, bring extra makeup to help touch things up in case you sweat (if you’re in full costume) and some sunscreen (if you’re not).

Price also notes that it's helpful to “bring an open mind” to the event, since you’re going to be exposed to hordes of weirdly dressed (or just flat-out weird) people.

Route: The Zombie Walk will cover a 1.5-mile route that will leave Heritage & Science Park and lurch its way north on Fifth Street. From there, participants will head east on Fillmore Street, take a left on First Street, and eventually double back via Polk and Taylor before staggering through the Arizona Center and heading back to the park.

What Not to Bring: Outside food or drink, especially alcohol, won’t be allowed into the event. Ditto for laser pointers, fireworks, or anything else that might be disruptive, destructive, or dangerous. That includes actual weapons, such as functioning firearms, which are strictly (and understandably) forbidden, as Price explains.

“There's no real weapons allowed,” he says. “And there's a heavy police presence, many in uniform and many undercover officers, so anybody who would have any sort of ideas about bringing a real weapon or trying anything would want to reconsider. Due to the large number of people that we expect, there's a lot of security that goes along with it.”

Prop weaponry, however, is allowed at the Zombie Walk (particularly if it's part of your character or costuming) but will be checked out by security at entrances and marked with colored tape.

What to Do: If you’re dressed as a zombie, try to act the part and have fun doing so. Stumble around while moaning and groaning. Pose for pictures. Dance like Michael Jackson in the “Thriller” music video. Act out a scene from The Walking Dead. Look menacing. Growl a lot. And above all, Price says, play nice with others. Which leads us to our next point…

What Not to Do: When playing out your zombie fantasy, try not to get too much into character, ruin someone else’s good time, invade their personal space without permission, or attempt to turn them into your dinner. In other words, don’t bite, don’t splatter onlookers with faux blood or gore, also don’t touch other participants or attendees without consent.

Price says that incidents such as these haven’t occurred in the past and that the event’s rules are in place to avoid anyone from becoming uncomfortable or alaramed.

“You're not going to get accosted or grabbed or bit or anything like that. People are pretty chill and pretty respectful,” Price says. “We've been very fortunate over the course of this event as it has grown that we haven't had any incidents like that. People have always really conducted themselves really well and understand the rules.”

Although the Zombie Walk itself doesn’t take place until 6 p.m., there will be plenty of activity in and around Heritage & Science Park both before and after. Here’s a rundown of what’s happening and when, including set times for a the bands scheduled to play the event.

2 p.m.: Event begins and the beer garden, Zombification Zone, and Little Zombie Zone all open to the public.

3 p.m.-3:45 p.m.: Bear Ghost performs

4 p.m.: Twin Ponies performs

5 p.m.: Fairy Bones performs

6:30 p.m.: Zombie Walk beings at dusk

7 p.m.-7:45 p.m.: Playboy Manbaby performs

8 p.m.-8:30 p.m.: Costume contest emceed by KUPD’s John Holmberg

8:30 p.m.-9:15 p.m.: The Limit Club performs

9 p.m.: Little Zombie Zone closes

9:45 p.m.-10:45 p.m.: Alien Ant Farm performs

11 p.m.: Event ends
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.