If you haven’t been to downtown Pontiac in the last week or so, it’s time to get back over there. Because, you see, for this month it is no longer “Pontiac.” It is Hauntiac.
Mike McGuinness, Chair of the Pontiac Arts Commission, says that he and others have been itching to do something like Hauntiac for a while, but it was after they held the first-ever Art Crawl in downtown Pontiac this past May that they realized they could do it and it could work.
“There were already many elements for the fall season that are very dynamic, and some are extremely popular,” he explains. “We already had the pieces in place and wanted to take the initiative to spin the spider’s web and weave it into a more marketable concept tying all of these elements together. We wanted to make some magic happen in a clever and intentional way in downtown Pontiac.”
Hauntiac leans into Pontiac’s already-established reputation as a Halloween-centric destination thanks to the four-story Erebus, which was for many years the world’s largest haunted attraction and has consistently been ranked among the best in the country. (New for this year: the Erebus escape room.) At the same time, the Crofoot Ballroom has hosted its “Creepy Cheapy Halloween” party for over a decade, where over a dozen local bands take the stage as other famous musicians, in costume and all. Then there is the historic Oak Hill Cemetery, which has the graves of many early Oakland County settlers and Civil War heroes. Every year since 2015, the Better Pontiac Community Development Corporation has hosted the Oak Hill Cemetery Walk in late September as an educational history tour and fundraiser for maintenance of the cemetery.
To celebrate the season, the streets of downtown Pontiac are decorated with cornstalks on the light posts, murals, and other temporary installations, and some businesses plan on doing projected art light displays. Hauntiac season starts the first day of fall and continues until after Halloween, and though this is just the first year, McGuinness says they plan on doing this every year to support those activities and businesses that are already signature fall and Halloween activities as well as promoting new events that are on the calendar for this first Hauntiac season.
Some new events this year include zombie and creature feature movie screenings at the Pontiac Little Art Theatre hosted by well-known Detroit “horror host” Wolfman Mac, as well as an all-ages screening of Beetlejuice with a costume contest. On the Friday before Halloween, Main Street Pontiac will host a “vampire blood drive” at the Strand Theatre, as well as the first-ever Hauntiac Main Street Masquerade Gala. That weekend there will also be psychic and tarot readings at Henk Studio, Halloween-themed parties at downtown Pontiac bars and nightclubs, pop-up art exhibits and live music at downtown businesses, a talk featuring paranormal investigators at the Pontiac Library as well as a screening of the movie A Quiet Place (note: the folks at the Pontiac Library definitely have a sense of humor!), and the Rocky Horror Picture Show live musical at the Pontiac Theatre IV.
But Hauntiac isn’t just for adults—Halloween is also for the kids, after all. This year, kids can trick-or-treat at the Pontiac Library as well as visit the Oakland County Pioneer and Historical Society’s Haunted Mansion at Pine Grove. On October 20, the First Presbyterian Church will host its Harvest Family Fun Day, and on October 30, “Angel’s Night,” the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office will host its annual neighborhood “Trunk or Treat” event at Aaron Perry Park.
“Hauntiac is getting all these elements and components of the community together, all the fun stuff and all the community activities that are happening during the fall season thematically around Halloween,” McGuinness says. “We’re bringing all those elements together and marketing them so that in future years we become the destination regionally for people to come together for that Halloween experience.”
Hauntiac is a grassroots, entirely volunteer-driven effort. McGuinness sees it as a huge economic development opportunity and tourism driver for the city as well as the county, but ultimately for him and for the Pontiac Arts Commission, this is just another way for them to support their mission of creating art and finding ways to improve the community—this just happens to be focused on Halloween!