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Village Halloween festival in Liverpool this weekend

Gravestones line Washington Park and pumpkins warn the villagers of what's to come.

These eerie harbingers point not to a dark plague or a vicious haunting, but to something more enjoyable: Halloween in the Village, a Halloween festival to be held Oct. 27 and 28 in Washington Park.

The festival will feature games, contests, a hayride and plenty of free entertainment, including The Review's own Russ Tarby and his band, The Water Street Stompers Washtub Orchestra.

But it wasn't always so big. When it started in 2002, organizer Mike Bearup, owner of Salt City Signs, said it was just a hayride.

"We started as a merchants' group," Bearup said of those who organized the ride. "We decided to do a hayride in the village and tell some scary stories about what had happened there. It was more of a haunted history than anything else."

The merchants' group also did little to promote the event, which lasted just three hours. "We had no promotion the first year," Bearup said. "We called a couple of radio stations. We had about 350 people."

The group saw potential in that first event and decided to keep it going. In order to gain nonprofit status to raise money for the next event, they approached the Greater Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and became a Chamber subcommittee. Thanks to that extra money and exposure, the second year's event was four times the size of the first and included the hayride plus a hay maze, games and contests.

"The following year, we added an art festival," Bearup said. "The event was getting bigger, but there were fewer and fewer people to help with it. So last year we went to a community group, but that didn't pan out."

Hoping to make this year's event the best ever, Bearup started a business that will handle the festival. He actively sought sponsorships and got them from Sunny 102, Eagle Newspapers and other area businesses.

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