Friday, August 26, 2011

A Visit To The Monroeville Mall (Dawn of the Dead)




With only a couple weeks left until the 2011 Drive-In Super Monster-Rama show (click on the link to read all about it), I thought I'd share a story from the trip to Pennsylvania for last year's show. I've already written about the 2010 Drive-In Super Monster-Rama (in three parts no less: Part One, Part Two and Part Three), but there was more to that weekend than just the Monster-Rama! The friends I hitched a ride with went down on Thursday and returned home on Sunday. In addition to the eight movies featured during the two nights of the Monster-Rama (and the attempt to get some sleep between the shows) we also managed to attend an antiques show and stroll around the town of Kittanning, PA. Kittanning was not only where our motel was located, but it was also one of the filming locations for the movies "The Mothman Prophesies" (2002) and "My Bloody Valentine" (2009). We also visited the great Knoebel's Amusement Park on the way home and ate a whole bunch of wonderful road food throughout the trip.

Another highlight was the trip to nearby Monroeville, PA to visit the mall there. What makes this mall so special and worth an hour's drive to get to when sleep is such a valuable commodity? Well, the Monroeville Mall just happens to be the main shooting location for George A. Romero's iconic zombie movie "Dawn of the Dead" (1978)! I'd read about the mall a few years ago online, but to actually be able to visit it was a great experience. I know it seems strange to consider visiting a mall a "great experience", but the history of this particular one is what made it so special.



I'd heard that the mall doesn't do much in the way of honoring or even noting its role in such a classic horror movie. This seemed to be true. I can only imagine the number of people who go into the mall on a daily basis having absolutely no idea about it's importance in the world of zombie movies--and horror movies in general. A lot has changed since 1978 of course. The mall appears to have expanded, with several new buildings containing chain restaurants and big box stores around the property. The original mall building itself seems pretty unchanged physically. They've updated things to try to keep with the times, but you can still see some structural elements that scream 1970s. The ice skating rink is gone, but it's still possible to see where it had been if you look close enough. I'm sure there were a lot of details that I wasn't savvy enough to pick up on. For any fan of the original "Dawn of the Dead", I'd highly recommend visiting the mall if you just happen to find yourself in that neck of the woods. There always seem to be a LOT of cool horror-related events going on around the greater Pittsburg area that would make a trip there (and a side trip to Monroeville) very worthwhile. In addition to the annual Drive-In Super Monster-Rama there are a number of similar drive-in events. There's also the great Monster Bash convention (which I hope to make it to someday) and other horror conventions throughout the year.

Anyway, back to the Monroeville Mall. Here's some photos from our visit last year. I had mentioned that the mall doesn't go out of its way to commemorate its place in zombie movie history, but there was one store which REALLY took that history seriously and made the visit totally worthwhile. I'll mention that part of the visit after this group of photos.

On the way to the Monroeville Mall


The main part of the mall still looks very similar to how it appeared in 1978


I was Dead On Arrival in the mall's parking lot...

...And was re-animated just in time to enter the mall!


At the entrance we happened to choose to go in there was a large mural with all kinds of Pittsburg-area personalities and landmarks (including, yes, zombies and George A. Romero)


Here's the little fish pond and bridge feature that is seen in the film and is amazingly still there--as seen from the second floor


The bridge scenery up close


Another look at the bridge


J.C. Penney, formerly known simply as Penney--where the heroes of the movie spent a lot of time hiding from zombies and bikers


Posing with the Mannequins in J.C. Penney


The escalator in J.C. Penney. This is the one Roger slides down during the shopping spree


This nice little carousel has nothing to do with "Dawn of the Dead", but here it is anyway


And now for what was probably the best part of the visit. We saw what appeared to be a neat toy and collectibles store on the first floor from the second floor when we entered the mall. We went all the way down the length of the mall before heading down to the first floor. Because of this, we didn't get to the store until we saw pretty much everything else at the mall. Talk about saving the best for last! It was more than worth the wait. The store was called Time and Space. It had an awesome array of toys, collectibles, action figures, vintage toys, autographed material, T-shirts and everything else you'd want to see in a store called Time and Space. But that's not all... The store was also the home of the group Monroeville Zombies. This group is the only thing in the mall that truly embraces and honors the important place the mall holds in zombie movie history. Not only did they sell all kinds of zombie-related t-shirts, posters and movies, they also ran a museum in the back of the store called The Zombie Experience. It was a very cool-looking space and included all kinds of great zombie stuff. In fact, it contained more zombie-related material than you could shake a dismembered arm at!

CHECK IT OUT:
The entrance to the Time and Space store

New postcard with vintage images of the mall for sale at the store!



Signage for Monroeville Zombies and The Zombie Experience


The awesome entrance to The Zombie Experience museum (note the zombie in the ticket booth!)


How appropriate it is to start off with the first zombie seen in George Romero's first zombie movie--the Cemetery Zombie from "Night of the Living Dead" (1968)
I should also mention that there was a coffin behind this particular gentleman which was actually a ride called "The Living Dead Experience Ride" (part of the sign for it can be seen next to the Cemetery Zombie above). It was a motion simulator ride and you actually "rode" inside the coffin! Unfortunately it was out-of-order when we visited. Oh well...


They had a wonderful array of zombie and zombie-related movie posters along the wall


Another view of the movie posters

Insurance Certificate from "Night of the Living dead"


Actual movie props from the making of "Dawn of the Dead"


This "Dawn of the Dead" display had a video about the making of the movie running in a loop


A model of what the skating rink area looked like during the filming of "Dawn of the Dead"


Another model showing the area where Penney's (J.C. Penney) was/is located


A closeup view of the Penney's diorama, which can be compared to...

...What the same area looks like today!

Inside the museum they had what they called the "Maul of Fame". It was a great take on the idea of a "hall of fame" or "walk of fame", where luminaries of zombie movies (mainly the George Romero ones) left their handprints in "blood" rather than in cement. A great idea! Unfortunately I didn't get photos of many of the big names (including George Romero himself), but here's a few...
The "Maul of Fame"


George Kosana, the Sheriff in "Night of the Living Dead", who uttered one of the greatest lines in a zombie movie ever: "They're dead. They're all messed up'"


Tom Savini, movie make-up and special effects legend, and actor in "Dawn of the Dead"


Russ Streiner, who played George in "NOTLD" and said another classic line:
"They're coming to get you Barbra"

And now onto some of the various famous zombie statues/mannequins that the museum featured...
Here's Roger from "Dawn of the Dead" in his cart. Of course he didn't ride in the cart after his transformation into a zombie, but it's a great display!


Stephen, aka Flyboy--one of the creepiest-looking zombies from "Dawn of the Dead", and one of the creepiest-looking statues in the museum!

"Dawn of the Dead" was certainly well represented in the museum, but well-known zombies from a lot of other movies were also featured. Here are a few of them...
Here I am meeting one of the nazi-zombies from "Shock Waves"--by far the greatest nazi-zombie movie ever made


Another shot of the "Shock Waves" nazi-zombie


The "star" of the 1979 movie "Zombie" (aka "Zombi 2")


Another shot of the "Zombie" zombie


One of the zombie-containing canisters from "Return of the Living Dead" (1985)--the "unofficial" sequel to "Night of the Living Dead"


The father from the "Father's Day" segment of "Creepshow", who just wanted his Fathers Day cake


Michael Jackson as a zombie in "Thriller"


And, can you really have a zombie museum without having Tor Johnson from "Plan 9 from Outer Space"?


Finally, I should also mention that it was interesting to just stand on the second floor and watch the mall's patrons shuffle and shamble around on the first floor...not all that different from the zombies in the movie! While "Dawn of the Dead" is simply a great horror movie on the surface, George Romero also packed in a lot of symbolism and commentary on the consumerism of the American populace of the day which still rings true to this very day. Here's some video that I took of our visit. It starts off with a shot from the second floor which illustrates this aspect just a bit. Note the John Lennon muzak playing in the background and the screaming children from the amusement area below (but out of camera view) which add so much to the scene. Also included in the video is the fish bridge, a ride on the J.C. Penney escalator and some footage from inside the Zombie Experience museum.



Postscript: I received word back in December via an e-mail that the Time And Space store and the Monroeville Zombies Zombie Experience Museum were closing "temporarily" at the end of 2010. After not hearing any news for many months I recently heard that the Zombie Experience museum was being renovated and was supposed to open in September 2011 (next month) in a new location at the opposite end of the mall. The new location is supposed to include video games, mini-golf and other attractions, but does not include the Time and Space store (unfortunately). They also indicate that a Monroeville Mall Location Tour is "coming soon"--that sounds very cool! I still haven't heard an exact opening date for the new Zombie Experience, but am hoping it might be there in time for our 2011 trip to Pennsylvania in two weeks... Check here for the latest details and keep your fingers crossed: Monroeville Zombies.



17 comments:

  1. Awesome blog! What a small world, I actually live in Kittanning, Pa.

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  2. GET OUT!!! That's amazing! It's a nice little town (with a cool bridge)--at least it seemed nice to a visitor from MA anyway.

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  3. For real! And about 9 miles down the road in a town called Rural Valley is where they filmed parts of Silence of the Lambs!

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  4. great post Monster Dad--thanks for taking the time to put this beast together

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  5. this was killer! thanks for posting!!

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  6. This really was quite a beast to put together indeed. Glad the work put into it was appreciated!

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  7. What a fun, interesting, informative post! Thanks!

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  8. Thanks so much for sharing your experience in that famous mall. You had great shots of a lot of the films locations and props. I plan to soon visit that place.

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  9. This is so amazing.

    I too went there from Canada, but the Monroville Zombies room was being built so I could not see the awesomeness inside. SHOCK WAVES?!?!

    Unreal.

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    1. Thanks Jables. The museum (and store itself) closed not long after our visit in 2010 and didn't re-open until this past fall. I'd like to see what it looks like now, but at the same time am VERY glad that we didn't show up during a time when it was closed!

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  10. Want it to be my main goal to go there and visit that mall in 5 years time.

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    1. That's a good goal indeed. If you're a fan of DOTD you should enjoy it.

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  11. I really enjoyed this post. It really makes me want to go there but it's so far away from where I live. I hate that so much. Great post!!

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    1. I was in the same boat. I was just lucky that my friends took me along with them to the Drive-In Super Monster-Rama show that year, and we were able to take a side trip to the mall. Not sure if I would have EVER gotten there otherwise!

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  12. I grew up about ten minutes from Monroeville mall. My mom worked there at a kitchen store and said that there was a very creepy vibe in the corridors behind the stores. She hated going back there alone.
    I didn't see the movie until I was in my teens. Noone that I knew seemed to care that an iconic movie was filmed in "our mall." I met Tom Savini many times (I have a photo with him and his autograph) when I worked at the Greater Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival buy he never mentioned his work on the film.
    In the early 2000s a lot of renovations were done to the mall. Prior to those changes it looked much more authentic to the horror filled mall in the movie.

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  13. That looks an awesome place. I'm gonna try to visit it. I'm pretty sure me and my friends are going to love it. Try visiting Circuit Makati, you'll love it too. Anyway, Thanks for sharing!

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