The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 28, 2011

BILL EGGERT | Holiday’s a howl at ‘haunted’ hotel

Bill Eggert
For The Tribune-Democrat

— Halloween is again lurking around the corner, and Mother Nature is decorating her foliage with fall colors of orange, red and gold.

Shops have been selling Halloween decorations for a few months now, and kids anxiously prepare their costumes for their fun-filled night of trick-or-treating to pick up their treasure of candy from the neighbors.

Mom was always in the spirit of Halloween when my two brothers and I were kids, and I still enjoy the holiday.

My friend Blair Murphy, who I’ve known since I moved back to town a few years back, also revels in the Halloween season. An active member of the Windber community, he helped to get the Graham Avenue tribute for legendary rock and roll disc jockey Alan Freed, originally from Windber. Blair also produced an outdoor production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” back in 2009. He is now shooting a zombie film in and around the Windber area.

Blair’s enthusiasm and youth­ful energy belie his 40-something age. He is equal parts Andy Warhol, P.T. Barnum, Ed Wood and William Castle.

Originally from New Jersey, he lived part of his adult life in Los Angeles. Murphy had the distinction of working in various capacities for three

20th-century pop icons: Dick Clark, Stan Lee and Prince.

His idols include figures like Orson Welles and Edgar Allen Poe, though his most seminal influence was his father, who owned a funeral home, obviously spurring Blair’s longtime fascination with the macabre.

His dad also made home movies, adding to his interest in cinema.

Blair’s home is the Grand Midway Hotel, a 100-year-old edifice that harkens back to Windber of another time. The three-story structure has had a colorful history, but perhaps none as unique as its current incarnation.

Murphy has almost singlehandedly renovated the hotel to an eerie and mysterious dwelling. It is filled with statues, wild animal taxidermy, and even a secret bookcase passageway, not to mention the various ghosts and goblins that are said to haunt the site.

Blair’s mantra includes the concept of “enchantment,” and part of his philosophy is: “Teach what you would learn.”

His community of artists who have gathered at the Grand Midway during the past 10 years include musicians, writers, filmmakers, poets; even an exorcist, a chef and a magician. They come from Johnstown and nearby Pittsburgh, and as far away as New Orleans. And all have an appreciation for the ghoulish.

Murphy hosts annual events, such as the Kerouac Festival, and recently started Dracula Con to tap into the renewed interest in vampires.

Both events bring in guests from around the country, including Butch Patrick (TV’s Eddie Munster).

With his fascination with the macabre, you could say that Blair Murphy celebrates Halloween every day of the year. He embraces the various aspects of the dark and mysterious, as well as his love of enchantment, along with his girlfriend, Deanna, and his multitude of friends who share an appreciation of things that go bump in the night.

The sound of mysterious footsteps and the cold air sweeping into rooms add to the ambiance that he fosters.

The hospitality that the host of the Grand Midway extends to his guests is quite reassuring to those who enter his hotel with any trepidation.

Happy Halloween, everyone.

Bill Eggert is a Johnstown native. You can read his blog at http://thebillvilleblog

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