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‘Walking Dead’ invasion descending on Cynthiana

Steve Ewalt stands in front of his jewelry store on Main Street in Cynthiana. Part-time employee Rejeana Craft and others designed the window display, which includes a moving zombie.
Steve Ewalt stands in front of his jewelry store on Main Street in Cynthiana. Part-time employee Rejeana Craft and others designed the window display, which includes a moving zombie. gkocher1@herald-leader.com

It’s the end of the world as we know it, but Cynthiana feels fine. Perhaps a wee bit jittery, but fine.

Because, really, how does a Central Kentucky town — or any place, for that matter — prepare for a zombie apocalypse?

On the preparedness scale, Cynthiana thinks it’s as ready as any city can be for Saturday’s influx of fans of the AMC show “The Walking Dead,” one of the most popular cable TV series.

The big question is, just how many will show up for Walking Dead Day? Tomi Jean Clifford, executive director of the Cynthiana-Harrison County Chamber of Commerce, says the answer is anyone’s guess.

“It could be anywhere from 5,000 to 25,000,” Clifford said. “It could be more. We just don’t know.”

All 26 rooms of the locally owned Evergreen Motel are booked; there are no chain motels in Cynthiana, a town of 6,300 about 30 miles northeast of Lexington. Fairfield Inn & Suites in Georgetown, about 20 miles away, reports that a block of rooms has been reserved by a Walking Dead group, but other Georgetown motels reported Wednesday that they have plenty of vacancies.

Other “Walking Dead” fan events in Atlanta, Nashville and elsewhere across the country have attracted thousands of people.

“It’s exciting to think that that many people will come to Cynthiana, but it’s also scary because how are we going to deal with that many people?” said Taylena Cason-Burgan of Van Hook True Value Hardware.

On the other hand, downtown Cynthiana has some experience in handling crowds. The annual Cynthiana Rod Run, a celebration of all things motorized, drew an estimated 15,000 people last year to see 1,500 custom and restored cars, trucks and motorcycles.

But zombies, or “walkers,” as they’re called on the show, and the fans of zombies are so darned unpredictable.

“If you read the Facebook pages, there are people from all over the country and even out of the country that are commenting that they’re coming,” local artist Kathy Smith-Burberry said.

“I’m just kinda flabbergasted, to be honest,” Smith-Burberry said. “I didn’t realize that ‘Walking Dead’ was that big.”

Portuguese muralist Sergio Odeith painting giant tribute to local men who created popular Walking Dead zombie TV series and comic books.

Even though the TV series is based on the comic book created and written by Robert Kirkman and penciled and inked in the first issues by Tony Moore — who both attended high school in Cynthiana— many Harrison County residents hadn’t watched the show. Kirkman, who also is executive producer of the TV series, and Moore are scheduled to be in Cynthiana for Walking Dead Day.

So when Portuguese artist Sergie Odeith began painting a mural with four “Walking Dead” characters on the side of the Rohs Opera House in late June, some people weren’t sure what it depicted.

“At first people didn’t know what it was, and they’re like, ‘Why are these four people painted on this wall?’” Clifford said.

But they’re catching up fast. Graphic novels and DVDs of the TV series have been popular at the Cynthiana-Harrison County Public Library, youth services librarian Cindy Franklin said.

“I mean, you’re seeing people check those out from age 16 up to age 75,” Franklin said.

“People you didn’t think would want to read it, now they’re coming in and saying ‘I want to read that,’” said Terry Harris, the librarian in charge of interlibrary loans and circulation.

Clifford said some members of the chamber of commerce’s board of directors have been watching the series.

“And it’s so funny because they’re all like, ‘It’s so gory but I can’t look away,’” she said.

For those who don’t know, “The Walking Dead” follows a band of people, led by a small-town lawman, who battle zombies as they trek across the South trying to find safety.

Cynthiana is a setting in the comic-book version of “The Walking Dead,” but not the TV show.

When the mural was finished, local business owners were surprised by how many people came to look at it. Mindy Tindle, co-owner of Trindy’s Family Bistro across the street from the mural, said, “It’s probably doubled our business. It’s getting busier and busier.

“There have been people from California, Michigan, Florida, everywhere, taking pictures all day long, every day,” Tindle said.

She, like many downtown businesses, is jumping whole-hog into this zombie business. On Saturday the bistro will serve bloody Marys and “bloody brains,” a drink concoction made with Bacardi strawberry rum, Bailey’s Irish Creme and lime juice.

“It has the effect of a bleeding brain in the bottom of it,” Tindle said. “I found it years ago for a Halloween drink.”

The bistro will also host a “Walking Dead” trivia contest, with 11 teams of six people each who will answer questions about the show.

Smith-Burberry, the artist who has never seen the show, is known for her spoon ornaments, which can be hung from Christmas trees, curtain rods or plants. She has made special zombie spoons for Walking Dead Day.

“I wasn’t even going to do anything for the Walking Dead Day until I had people asking, ‘What are you going to do? Are you going to do a zombie spoon?’ I had to go online to see what a zombie looks like.”

Downtown stores are decorating their windows for the weekend. Laura Todd Simpson, owner of Simply Vintage, took old, cast-aside Barbies and turned them into “walkers” for her window display.

“I took delight in tearing them up and painting them and I even burned some of them to create a crinkling of the skin,” Simpson said. “It was very different for me, because when I was little I had Barbies, and they were very pristine. So this was another side of my personality.”

Walking Dead Day is a way to bring positive attention to a city that has seen some downtown stores close as larger retail outlets opened in the area, Simpson said.

“When you can focus on something positive that has happened in your community or we can celebrate something in the community, it’s good for all downtown businesses. It provides a national focus on this tiny little town,” she said.

Ewalt Jewelers on Main Street has a zombie crawling out of a coffin as its window display. Steve Ewalt said he’s glad Kirkman and Moore “made good,” even though he doesn’t understand the whole “Walking Dead” phenomenon.

Cynthiana does have some experience with crowds, Ewalt said, but he wonders if the town “is ready for what’s coming.” If just half a percent of the millions of fans come, “you do the math,” he said.

“That’s just my thoughts,” Ewalt said. “I’m equating it to Woodstock in 1969. It could be.”

If you go

What: Walking Dead Day

Where: Downtown Cynthiana

When: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, August 6

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