By Joseph Flammer and Diane Hill
The first-ever Long Island “Haunted Bus Tour” launched successfully last weekend from the Clarion Hotel on Veterans Memorial Highway in Ronkonkoma.
“It’s never been done before,” said 44-year-old entrepreneur Elsie Martinez-Ginsberg, a Long Islander of 10 years. Over the last four years she built a thriving business producing weekend horror-themed conventions at LI hotels. “The haunted bus tour is a first for Long Island.”
The six-hour tour, which included visits to a handful of allegedly haunted sites, was one of many featured events of Haunt-Faire 2016: A Convention for All Things Haunted, which ran Aug. 5-7. The weekend-long horror convention was offered by Martinez-Ginsberg’s company, Twitch/Twitch Productions. The company has created a niche focusing on the Island’s horror-convention market since 2012.
Martinez-Ginsberg said she has added at least one new weekend event every year. For example, Haunt-Faire was one of five horror-themed conferences and film festivals she planned to produce on Long Island this year alone.
“When I came to Long Island I saw such a lack of this sort of entertainment,” she explained. “And I also saw Long Islanders don’t like to leave the island. They want everything here, served. And visa-versa: No one likes to come into Long Island because of the traffic, and it’s expensive. You have to cross all these bridges. It’s a pain in the neck!”
Meanwhile, the haunted locations visited by the daring people who took the sold-out haunted bus tour for $65 per person included the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center, Old Bethpage Village Restoration, Gateway Playhouse in Bellport, and ended at Katie’s Bar in Smithtown as midnight approached.
At Katie’s, passengers exited the bus and were able to relax with a drink, listen to music, and smell the haunting scent of funeral gardenias wafting inexplicably on the air as if from ghosts, said Martinez-Ginsberg. Paranormal investigators have long reported such bone-chilling happenings are not uncommon at the haunted bar. Some of the bar’s staff have claimed being touched by unseen entities and witnessing glasses and other items moving by themselves.
Martinez-Ginsberg said bus passengers were permitted to exit the bus and walk the grounds of the haunted locations they visited on the bus tour because she either made special arrangements with the management of the places, or secured a special permit to enter the grounds. For example, a permit was required for the group to visit the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center, a portion of which is under the jurisdiction of the Nissequogue River State Park. Nonetheless, while on its maiden journey the bus was pulled-over at the former psychiatric center by a police officer who was patrolling the grounds.
“We had the paper and showed him and we went on our way,” said Martinez-Ginsberg.
While some of the 50 or so vendors who sold items at Haunt-Faire came from other states, almost all of the attendees were from Long Island, Martinez-Ginsberg said.
“I like that the convention is so close to where we live,” said Lisa Macchia, 35, of Holbrook. She said Haunt-Faire was the third of Martinez-Ginsberg’s macabre events that she attended in the last three years. The average ticket for the event was $21.
Macchia said she brought her 6-year-old son, Rusty Brown, and her friend, Michael Gogui, to Haunt-Faire because they enjoy horror entertainment.
“It’s a good time,” she said, agreeing with Gogui, who had just finished playing a game of pool in a side room off the lobby with Rusty, who wore the makeup of a pirate-looking ghoul and was excited about the costume contest to be put on later that afternoon.
For next year, Martinez-Ginsberg plans new events like a Harry Potter-themed convention and a Haunt Flee Market, in addition to Haunt-Faire and a film festival. The haunted bus tour will be an ongoing event at Haunt-Faire, she said.
Martinez-Ginsberg has a simple explanation for where she gets her…well, her creepy entertainment ideas and business know-how.
“I am a visionary,” she said. “I think of myself as a Latino Disney.”
To learn more, visit the Haunt-Faire website: www.haunt-faire.com.