Pitch dark, save the flickering lantern dangling from his lapel, and Dreadful Dre stood ramrod straight in a deserted parking lot on Leroux Street. He twirled his skull-handled cane, then pointed the staff ominously northward in the direction of a stately Flagstaff home deemed by many, including the man himself, as haunted.
Nobody said anything. Silence fell, serious as the drop of a gallows, among the group. A slightly waning gibbous moon augmented by the swaying lantern did nothing to dispel the creepy, palpable possibility that something menacing, something spectral, might soon materialize on this Saturday night.
At last, Dreadful Dre spoke — his robust tenor taking on sober tones, his eyeballs bulging and his demonic smiling-skeleton face mask throbbing with every inhalation and exhalation, his delivery channeling a combination of Vincent Price and Rod Serling.
“I do assure you,” he said, “this story is sufficient enough to chill anyone to the bone.”
All that was missing was a demented cackle.
He spent the next 10 minutes detailing the grisly details of the 1937 Walkup family murders, one of the highlights of the Downtown Flagstaff Haunted History Tour, a fall staple in town since 2015, seemingly made even more spooky in these mask-wearing, virus-fearing pandemic times.
And Dreadful Dre — you may know him better as Andres “Dapper Dre” Adauto, local theater and civic-event bon vivant — played it up to the hilt, combing the Gothic and the gore in a chilling display of yarn-spinning. Lest we reveal any spoilers, it’s enough to say that the mass killing involving one of Flagstaff’s most prominent Depression-era families included references to ice picks, grisly discoveries, a fraught note to the milkman, a discarded shoe in the woods and the apparition of a young girl frolicking in the front yard.
There are seven stops on this, in Dre’s coinage, “call of the macabre.” Some purported haunted locations are well known in local lore — the Milligan House mischief; the assorted Orpheum Theater hauntings; the array of ghastly goings-on at the Hotel Monte Vista — but others may be less celebrated but no less eerie.
Or maybe it’s just the combination of Flagstaff’s famous dark sky, the Saturday night revelers walking the streets like zombies in masks, and Dre’s presentation that guaranteed a Halloween-style fright.
Yes, the overly rational among us will have to invoke a willing suspension of disbelief to get into the spirit of the thing. But Dre’s demeanor goes a long way to help. From the top of his stovepipe hat to the soles of his two-tone Oxfords, he exuded a crypt-keeper’s melding of deadpan recitation and sardonic asides.
Here he is standing in front of the Orpheum Theater, detailing a recurring haunting over the decades: “Another presence is in the men’s bathroom. Toilets flushing! Paper rolling and unrolling! One might wonder what happened to that poor lost spirit. An Elvis moment? Or did they have to get a demon out of them. Who knows? We can only wonder.”
And here he is, across the street from the Hotel Monte Vista, spinning the tale of a #MeToo haunting in Room 305 from back in the day: “A group of businessmen engaged some ladies of the night to do those things that those agreements entailed. And it so happened that the services rendered were not, let’s maybe say, wanted, needed or appreciated, and said ladies of the night took their last trip out of the hotel through the window onto the steps and they were no more. But, their spirits being wronged in that said way, you stuck around in Room 305. Men have felt being suffocated in the middle of the night in there, being awakened to pressure on their chest and neck in revenge for potential wrongs done previously.”
Tour participants, throughout the evening, reacted as expected: a few gasps, many nervous chuckles, some hollow-eyed silence and both amused and bemused expressions. Occasionally, too, they chimed in with stories of their own.
After Dre mentioned that the Hotel Monte Vista is well known as a “ghost-hunter” destination, a woman raised her hand and her voice: “I heard from someone who worked there that they knocked down the wall and found a bloody nightgown inside the wall.”
A chorus of “ewws” ensued, and you could almost see Dre making a mental note to check the story out for future tours.
Impressive as Dre is, he’s just the “talent.” The prime movers and creators are the mother-and-son team of Freaky Flagstaff Foottours LLC, Susan Johnson and Nick Jones.
Johnson is a local historian and author. She’s writing a book about the Walkup murders; hence, it’s star status on the tour. She has combined her fascination with ghosts with her love of Flagstaff’s Old West past and wants to share the tales to a wider audience. Until this year, she gave the tours herself, with Nick’s help. She said she was going to let the tour slide this fall because of COVID-19 concerns and a job change, but Nick changed her mind. He also enlisted Dre, a longtime friend, to be the front man.
“Probably about 15 years ago, my husband and I would go on the cemetery tours with the historical society where you can learn about the people that were here and hear about the murders, and I got really into it,” Johnson said. “I began in my spare time reading about things. It took off from there.”
Jones used his powers of persuasion to convince his mom to carry on. He appealed to her civic duty.
“Especially this year,” he said, “people really want to find things they can do together, safe and outside. We’re connecting people through stories of Flagstaff’s past.”
What better way to connect than to gather ‘round Dreadful Dre’s swaying lantern and hear about the killer custodian in the library, the newlyweds killed at the Weatherford Hotel before consummation, the Monte Vista’s phantom bellboy and the apparition that haunts the Doris Harper-White Playhouse — but only during rehearsals?
More than 22 million Americans already cast ballots in the 2020 election, a record-shattering avalanche of early votes driven both by Democratic enthusiasm and a pandemic that has transformed the way the nation votes.
The 22.2 million ballots submitted as of Friday night represents 16% of all the votes cast in the 2016 presidential election, even as eight states are not yet reporting their totals and voters still have more than two weeks to cast ballots. Americans' rush to vote is leading election experts to predict that a record 150 million votes may be cast and turnout rates could be higher than in any presidential election since 1908.
"It's crazy," said Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist who has long tracked voting for his site ElectProject.org. McDonald's analysis shows roughly 10 times as many people have voted compared with this point in 2016.
"We can be certain this will be a high-turnout election," McDonald said.
So far the turnout has been lopsided, with Democrats outvoting Republicans by a 2-1 ratio in the 42 states included in The Associated Press count. Republicans have been bracing themselves for this early Democratic advantage for months, as they've watched President Donald Trump rail against mail-in ballots and raise unfounded worries about fraud. Polling, and now early voting, suggest the rhetoric has turned his party's rank and file away from a method of voting that, traditionally, they dominated in the weeks before Election Day.
That gives Democrats a tactical advantage in the final stretch of the campaign. In many critical battleground states, Democrats have "banked" a chunk of their voters and can turn their time and money toward harder-to-find infrequent voters.
But it does not necessarily mean Democrats will lead in votes by the time ballots are counted. Both parties anticipate a swell of Republican votes on Election Day that could, in a matter of hours, dramatically shift the dynamic.
"The Republican numbers are going to pick up," said John Couvillon, a GOP pollster who is tracking early voting. "The question is at what velocity, and when?"
Couvillon said Democrats cannot rest on their voting lead, but Republicans are themselves making a big gamble. A number of factors, from rising virus infections to the weather, can impact in-person turnout on Election Day. "If you're putting all your faith into one day of voting, that's really high risk," Couvillon said.
Meanwhile, Trump was outraised by Democratic challenger Joe Biden in September and is being outgunned financially by his rival with just weeks to go until Election Day.
Trump's campaign, along with the Republican National Committee and associated groups, raised $247.8 million in September, well short of the $383 million raised by Biden and the Democratic National Committee in the same period. Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh tweeted that the Trump effort had $251.4 million on hand at the end of September, compared with $432 million for Biden.
Trump campaigned Friday in Florida and Georgia, neighboring states he carried four years ago and must win again to extend his presidency. His decision to devote Friday evening's prime-time slot to Georgia in particular highlighted the serious nature of his challenge in the 2020 contest's closing days: Far from his original plan to expand into Democratic-leaning states, he is laboring to stave off a defeat of major proportions.
No Republican presidential candidate has lost Georgia since George H.W. Bush in 1992. This week, Trump had to court voters in Iowa, a state he carried by almost 10 points four years ago.
In Macon, he cited support from former University of Georgia football star Herschel Walker to win favor from his rally crowd. “How good was Herschel Walker?" Trump said as the Georgia crowd roared. “He's on our side, and he's an incredible guy."
Republican Sen. David Perdue mocked Kamala Harris, his Senate colleague and the Democratic vice presidential nominee, by repeatedly mispronouncing her name at a Georgia rally for President Donald Trump.
Perdue was wrapping up his remarks at the Macon event when he referred to Harris as “KAH'-mah-lah? Kah-MAH'-lah? Kamala-mala-mala? I don’t know. Whatever.” The audience laughed.
Harris’ political opponents have repeatedly mispronounced her name since she became the first Black woman and first person of South Asian descent on a national ticket. Democrats say the mispronunciations smack of racism.
Biden opened his Michigan swing at a suburban Detroit community center. In keeping with his usual protocols, Biden and all the participants wore masks throughout the event, except when they were speaking, and a small crowd of dozens of reporters and supporters watched from folding chairs separated by circles to ensure social distancing.
“He's living in a dream world,” Biden said of Trump's rosy predictions of the pandemic. The former vice president then turned to the Trump administration's court fight to overturn the “Obamacare” health coverage law — including its protection for people with preexisting conditions — without having a replacement plan.
“Mishandling the pandemic isn’t enough for Trump,” Biden charged. “On top of that he’s still trying to take away your health care."
The yearly sunrise drinking tradition is known locally for its controlled chaos as alumni and students hit the streets at the crack of dawn before the parade and Homecoming game.
This year Northern Arizona University's Homecoming celebration has gone virtual on Nov. 5 due to the pandemic, so where does that leave Tequila Sunrise?
Many bars and some restaurants said they were going to open later in the day trying not to entice people to travel downtown for Tequila Sunrise. The Flagstaff Police Department is hoping to dissuade people from going out that morning to honor public safety and reduce the spread of the coronavirus. For the downtown business sector, it's one of their busiest days of the year.
Eddie Karner, general manager at Collins Irish Pub & Grill, said this year would have been his 11th straight Tequila Sunrise, but they're going to open around noon and not hold any drink specials besides happy hour on Nov. 5.
This year has been a difficult one for Collins as they have laid off 17 people from their door staff and cut 30 bar shifts. The owner also parted ways with The Market Bar & Kitchen down the street, Karner said.
"I'm a pretty healthy individual. I don't have preexisting conditions. It might not be fun, but I think I truly would be OK [if I caught COVID-19]," Karner said. "But I'm not going to be responsible for somebody's kid. I'm not going to be responsible for somebody's parents or grandparents."
Colin Seay, Flagstaff Police Department officer leading the response to Tequila Sunrise, said there won't be special event permits from the city, no in-person football game, and he hoped no reason for a normal Tequila Sunrise during a pandemic.
"If you are going to go out, do it safely," Seay said. "If you are a restaurant and bar owner, please follow those rules for establishment owners."
The department's concern is that a large event could entice people to come out in large gatherings -- which during the COVID-19 pandemic could contribute to a spike in community transmission. As of Friday, Coconino County has 4,553 positive cases with 141 deaths and 3,629 people recovered.
Coconino County is trending downward in its weekly positive cases, going from the second-largest weekly case reporting of 307 cases on Sept. 19 to 201 during the week of Oct. 10.
"I've had downtown officers go to every bar and restaurant on the north and southside of downtown," Seay said, adding that only a few if any bars will be open early in the morning.
The Mayor has opened at their new location at 101 S. San Francisco St., in the building formerly owned by Root Public House, with its new rooftop eating area. Audrey de Guzman, general manager, said the business would open at 11 a.m. with social distancing and masks.
The general manager was personally concerned that people who may be carrying the virus could bring it to Flagstaff during Tequila Sunrise.
"The only goal is to keep everybody safe, to be honest. I don't want anyone to get even more sick. We've already been in this pandemic for too long," de Guzman said.
Tequila Sunrise has typically been a large undertaking for the city, requiring massive officer deployment in the downtown and southside area for community safety. The scores of students, young adults and alumni that stagger downtown at the crack of dawn in Flagstaff for early-morning drinks can sometimes cause traffic reroutes for cars in the area.
In previous years, NAU's Homecoming parade would march through downtown Flagstaff, mixing bar crawls with a family oriented parade atmosphere before it was moved on campus.
Seay said the department is anticipating many house parties, but hoped gatherings would still keep the numbers low. In 2014, when Tequila Sunrise moved to The Grove area nearly 1,000 students were drinking and partying in the middle of the streets. Flagstaff police made close to 30 arrests that day, attracting national media attention.
Seay said that all the current restrictions on large gatherings, enforced social distancing, required cleaning and mask mandates would remain in place.
Many expected the Coconino County Health and Human Service's inspectors and the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control to be watching the area closely for violations.
"Hopefully we'll get some compliance before taking enforcement action, which is the last thing bars and restaurants would want," Seay said. "The department will take action if there is a gathering that is unsafe for the public."
There might not be football, or crowded parades and carnivals or even the traditional chili cook-off, but Northern Arizona University students and alumni will still have a chance to celebrate their university in a virtual Homecoming this fall.
From Thursday, Nov. 5 through Saturday, Nov. 7, NAU will carry on its 96-year-old Homecoming tradition with festivities including student concerts, trivia, a shoe box parade and a ceremony recognizing honored alumni. All events will be virtual in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think the need for community and just coming together is more important now than ever,” said Director of Alumni Engagement Stephanie Smith. “It’s 2020 so there’s definitely ways to be able to do that virtually, and we want to be able to take advantage of that. Some universities have canceled their Homecoming, and I’m proud and I know I’ve heard from alumni who are also proud that NAU did not decide to cancel Homecoming and we are still going to be together, just virtually this year.”
Although NAU football does not begin until next semester, Smith said there are not currently any plans for a separate celebration in the spring.
In addition to the thousands of spectators who attend the annual Homecoming game, other events taking place throughout the weekend typically bring in several hundreds of both alumni and current students. The most popular student event is the carnival that is attended by about 5,000 students each year.
The Homecoming Committee is similarly expecting a large turnout this year, based on other activities NAU has held since the beginning of the semester. Virtual events such as the Welcome Week concert and painting classes have up to 400 student participants, said Kevin Gemoets, director of student life, who has co-chaired the committee with Smith for four years.
As Smith has seen with registration for a career mixer scheduled for next week, virtual options are increasing alumni participation because they can join from wherever they are, a trend committee members hope will also apply to this fall tradition.
During Homecoming Weekend, students will have the opportunity to attend two virtual concerts and a first-time Lumberjack trivia night, as well as grab flapjacks to-go Saturday morning before the virtual shoe box parade, an idea borrowed from Coconino Community College’s Fourth of July celebration this year.
Alumni and Flagstaff community members have been invited to join students in the parade and trivia night as well as the Honored Alumni & Hall of Fame Virtual Ceremony, which has been an invite-only event in the past.
“We’re also using this as an opportunity to bring groups together that maybe would have normally have their separate events,” Smith said.
As it has been planning Homecoming, two particular groups have been top-of-mind for the committee: current freshmen and the Class of 2020, which has been named this year’s Homecoming dedicatee.
This title is typically awarded by students to a staff or faculty member who has been at the university for at least 10 years. They are recognized at the Homecoming game and get to ride in the parade and serve as a judge for the chili cook-off.
“It’s a really cool opportunity for that person and since they wouldn’t get that same opportunity this year, it was decided that this year the Homecoming dedicatee would be the Class of 2020,” Gemoets said. “Last year, of course, when this all happened, they were not able to celebrate in a normal graduation ceremony and they’re not going to be able to do that, unfortunately, this winter either, so that was our way to help celebrate the Class of 2020.”
He said, in the past, the most people who have been recognized as dedicatee at once is two, either coworkers or couples who both work at the university.
In addition to honoring those who have recently graduated, Gemoets said he also hopes Homecoming 2020 will benefit new Lumberjacks, giving them the chance to experience the same traditions as their predecessors.
“We don’t want a year to go by where our incoming class didn’t get to experience anything,” Gemoets said. “So we’re really excited to be able to continue [our traditions], even though, of course, they look a little bit different, students will know that their school has a Homecoming and that Homecoming is really important so that hopefully by next year — fingers crossed, if things are back to somewhat normal — they won’t feel brand-new to it. They will feel like they’ve already gotten to experience that.”