Paranormal Activity: Arizona Ghostbusters Go to Extremes for Good Causes

The corner of Cave Creek Road and Cheryl Street in Sunnyslope isn't usually a roadside attraction. Occupied by dilapidated wingding-style apartments and auto body shops with barbed-wire fences, the area is especially dark at night, where a single streetlight beams down uselessly on one spot of asphalt.

It's easy to drive right by this corner without even noticing it — except when there are a dozen people wearing Ghostbusters uniforms and giant proton packs, pushing a hulking, white-and-red 1972 ambulance across the street.

They're literally stopping traffic on a recent Sunday night, as curious passersby park their vehicles along the street and get out, marveling at the car and asking for photos with the group, which patterns itself after the paranormal investigators in the 1983 comedy Ghostbusters. "Ghostbusters!" exclaims a young guy walking past. "I love that movie!"

A Mexican couple gets out of their car and approaches the group. They don't speak English, and it's doubtful they've seen the movie. Every other word they say seems to be "Qué?" ("What?"). But even if they don't know the film with which this group is obsessed, they're getting quite a kick out of the scene. They're all smiles as they bust out their cell phones and gesture for photos in the middle of the street.

Once the ogle-fest is over, the group pushes the giant ambulance back into the Haynes Rod and Custom shop, where Rich Haynes has been restoring it. Rich is the cousin of Matt Haynes, the leader of this group, which is called the Arizona Ghostbusters. Matt's the proud owner of the ambulance — the group's version of the Ecto-1 vehicle from the film. It needs an engine and new wiring, but it looks road-ready.

Haynes and several of his fellow Ghostbusters were in the shop past midnight a few days ago, applying the Ghostbusters logo to the doors and affixing a replica Ecto Trap called the "Super Slammer," which looks like a couple of power boxes joined by pipes and high-tech gadgets, to the top.

"What do you think of our girl?" Haynes asks, referring to the car. "Isn't the paint job beautiful?"

He runs his fingers down the length of a red pinstripe and smiles. "Look at these custom accents," he fawns, before pointing at the blue lights atop the ambulance. "We had her lights flashing earlier."

Some men drool over monster trucks and Italian sports cars; these men are in love with an old Pontiac Bonneville ambulance.

Two disheveled women in miniskirts start to approach the garage, curiously, from across the street. Haynes jokes that they're looking for dates, but after craning their necks and giggling, the women walk away. Their puzzled expressions seem to ask the question this group always gets: Are these guys for real?

Arizona Ghostbusters are for real. Sort of. They're a real "costuming fan group," and their self-created car, props, and costumes are all real and made to be as identical to those in the Ghostbusters movies as possible. But they don't role-play or pretend to be particular characters from the film; the names on their Ghostbusters uniforms are their own. And they don't really investigate paranormal activity or bust ghosts, either.

They're just people who love the Ghostbusters franchise and use their costumes and car to raise money for charities. People notice them, and everybody seems to want photos with the team and their props. If people are willing to toss a donation into the group's charity fundraiser box, the Arizona Ghostbusters are happy to mug it up with them.

One of dozens of Ghostbusters fan groups worldwide, Arizona Ghostbusters are a small fraction of an international, nostalgia-driven costuming phenomenon that includes more than a quarter of a million people who regularly dress up like everything from Star Wars heroes and villains to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

But Arizona Ghostbusters have taken their fandom further than most costuming groups. The 16 or so active members have spent nearly six figures among them re-creating the uniforms, props, and car from the Ghostbusters franchise. That's way more than they've raised for charities, but it gives them a reason to put the costumes on every weekend.

Ghostbusters is just one piece of pop culture past that won't die. There's also the immortal and ever-morphing Star Trek. The original '60s TV series has become one of the biggest franchises in the world over the past five decades. Fans known as "Trekkies" have formed international costuming and role-playing groups like Star-Trek-One and the United Space Federation, each with global memberships around 3,000.

George Lucas' 1977 film Star Wars is another big throwback franchise, with costuming fan groups that include militia imitations of the Fighting 501st Legion and Rebel Legion (the "bad guys" and "good guys" in the movies, respectively). More recent franchises like the Harry Potter books and films, with their appeal of magic and juvenile nostalgia, have inspired costuming groups, too, most notably the Massachusetts-based Harry Potter Alliance, a national non-profit organization that claims 4,500 members dedicated to social activism.

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea