The Dark Shadows Festival held in Brooklyn over Labor Day Weekend, 2003, was a magnet for fans because we'd been led to believe it would be the last. There were between 2500 and 3000 attendees, making it the largest Fest in several years.

Organizers indicated it was the last full-scale convention they're planning--full-scale meaning 3 or more days. They were vague about what will replace it. (The last thing we've heard: a 2-day event in Tarrytown next year. Ugh!) But in response to protests, they said that doesn't mean they'll never have more full-scale cons. I suspect it will depend on how many fans indicate they're still willing to fly cross-country and spend several nights in expensive hotels. The wild card: new fans have been embracing DS in droves, but there's no way to predict how long that will continue.

Young, first-time attendees seemingly had a wonderful time at this Festival. It didn't make that favorable an impression on me, attending my 12th. The highlights for me were seeing old friends, being able to buy great fan fiction (three novels by Mary Elizabeth Overstreet, which I could have ordered by mail), the Collinsport Players' skit (wonderful!), and a Costume Gala that had some terrific performances to offset the inevitable bad ones.

The first event, Friday, was a New York Harbor Cruise. I took a cab between the hotel and the seaport, both ways, with a friend. Another friend went with the group walking over the Brooklyn Bridge (she shared our cab coming back). Festival organizers had said it would be a half-hour walk; it turned out to be so long that it took them closer to an hour. Apparently no harm was done, but some fans could have committed themselves to a walk that was too long for them.

I had taken New York Harbor Cruises at least twice before, and only signed up for this one because I didn't want to skip any part of the "last" Fest. A mistake. The winds were too strong, the water too choppy; the boat rocked so violently that I was terrified. The experience left me vowing I'll never get in or on a boat again. The cruise guide's spiel didn't seem as good as others I'd heard, though the problem may have been that I was too frightened to relax and listen properly. I thought his describing the World Trade Center in the present tense, as if it was still there, was ghoulish.

On to the Festival proper. I'm always interested in learning things I hadn't known about the show or actors. I picked up plenty of new information this year...but all of it was unpleasant.

First, we were told Mitchell Ryan was fired from the show because of a drinking problem (which he later overcame). I had never dreamed of such a thing. I'd suspected he left because he was originally intended to be the male lead, and resented losing that status to Jonathan Frid.

Worse yet, someone told us Thayer David "drank himself to death"! I find that hard to believe. At the time of his death, he was set to star in a Nero Wolfe TV series. If his drinking was out of control and had caused major damage to his health, wouldn't it have been well-known in the industry? Why would producers have taken a chance on him?

Diana Millay gave us the sad-if-true information that when she last spoke to Jonathan Frid, he was depressed about being 80 years old. We had never before heard anything negative about Jonathan's state of mind, only that he's in excellent health and enjoying his life in Canada. If what Diana said is true, I'm sure he wouldn't have approved her telling us.

About speaking out of turn...Lara Parker had every right to tell us she's a liberal Democrat, but not to add that Kathryn Leigh Scott is a Republican! Kathryn didn't look happy about it.

When a fan asked why Joel Crothers left the show, there seemed to be some snappishness among the actors onstage. Someone gave the too-brief answer that he left for a role on another soap. Diana Millay began rambling about having worked with him on "The Secret Storm," and about his having been very ill. (I think everyone knows now that Joel was gay and died of AIDS.) Kathryn said he'd been on "Santa Barbara" after that--apparently trying to shoot down Diana's claim that he'd been seriously ill at that time.

I'm sure I've heard or read somewhere that Joel left DS for the same reason as Alexandra Moltke--they were sick of playing "good," bland characters. Joel was given a chance to play the villainous Nathan Forbes, and was terrific; but then it was right back to Joe Haskell. I think I've read that he wanted the role of Quentin; it seems reasonable.

But if he really didn't leave out of dissatisfaction, whoever answered the question should have said more than, "He left for another soap." Some newer fans may not understand that when an actor--even a Lara Parker--was "killed off" or otherwise disposed of, and there was no immediate plan to use him or her in the next storyline, the person was not still under contract. He or she was simply out of work, with no guarantee of ever being brought back. It's actually surprising that so many actors were available when Dan Curtis wanted them again.

John Karlen's reference to Dennis Patrick Friday night was disturbing. Dennis had died in a tragic house fire at age 84. While other actors were offering affectionate reminiscences, John cut in with, "Dennis Patrick is dead. Dead!" Without his actually saying it, it seemed he meant, "He's dead, stop talking about him!" I'm not being critical; it made me worry about John, since he and Dennis had seemed to be close friends. I gather some fans thought John was either drunk or ill.

Friday night in particular, I thought that while there were some good fan questions and comments, a high percentage were stupid or downright weird. (One fan insisted Dennis had been married to her for 50 years. Brrr.)

I heard something else that may be true or only a rumor. Most fans' favorite convention site was New York's Marriott Marquis. We were unhappy at having to go to the WTC Marriott; the Brooklyn one isn't ideal, either. The story I heard is that the Marriott Marquis refused to have any more DS Fests because fans allegedly made too much noise. The person who told me that claimed DS fans had been wrongly blamed for noise that was actually made by a wedding party.

Other Fest events: I thought Chris Pennock's reading from his comic book was hilarious--for about the first ten minutes. Then it dragged on and on, repetitious and ultimately going nowhere.

Diana Millay gave us a cock and bull story about having experienced a time warp. She said that during the filming of "Night of Dark Shadows" in Tarrytown in 1970, she was the last person leaving the Lyndhurst mansion one night, and encountered a mysterious "night watchman" she believes was a living 19th-century man. She interacted with him, telling him she "was there with the film crew." Their being able to see each other and converse--if one believes it--would imply she had stepped through a time warp. She found the experience so creepy that instead of trying to go any farther, she retreated into the house and slept there. She found that creepy too. In the morning the house felt normal again--and she learned that as she'd suspected, there was no night watchman in 1970.

A friend of mine said immediately, "Why didn't she mention this watchman-from-another-time asking what she meant by a 'film crew'?" Beyond that, I forget whether she claimed to have been leaving the mansion in her 19th-century costume. If she wasn't in costume, a 19th-century man should have commented on her clothes. That's so obvious that I think she must have said she was still in costume. But how likely is it that (a) an actress would be leaving a location site in costume, and (b) she'd just happen to step through a time warp while she was suitably dressed?

If someone else had told this tale, I'd make the charitable assumption that the "watchman" had been pulling her leg. But Diana has always struck me as a phony. At a previous Fest, she told us a story about the late actor Telly Savalas's encounter with a ghost. A variation on the Phantom Hitchhiker: Savalas didn't pick up a hitchhiker, but was aided by someone after his car broke down, and the man who helped him turned out to have been dead for years. I don't know whether this story is true or a myth. But it had been circulating for a long time, and Diana had the gall to pretend it was something she only knew because Savalas had been a friend and confided in her. Bull.

I normally don't care for country music. But I listened to James Storm at a Fest several years ago, and his performance blew me away. He's just magnificent, so expert--or inspired--musically that I can appreciate anything he chooses to sing about.

I thought his performance would be a highlight of the Fest for me again this year. But it wasn't. Why? Because of the incessant chatter of people around me. Will conventiongoers never learn that when a musical performance is in progress, the fact that it's loud and their conversation can't drown it out does not mean they aren't ruining it for those near them?

One of the intended highlights was cast members' performance of a DS "sequel," read before mikes like an old radio broadcast. Titled "Return to Collinwood," it was written and directed by David Selby's son Jamison. I didn't expect much, so I wasn't disappointed. But the plot was rudimentary: Angelique had stolen Quentin's portrait, but she'd hidden it in a too-obvious place and he quickly recovered it. Meanwhile, Elizabeth had just died, and they read her will--which divided her estate predictably among Carolyn and husband Ned Stuart, Quentin (who was dating Maggie, concealing his not aging by adding some gray to his hair), and Willie (who got the Old House, in which he was living with a wife played by Marie Wallace). It was established that Roger was dead, Barnabas and Julia were traveling in the Far East, presumably married, and David was mining gold in South America.

Also, Elizabeth's will revealed that she had another child...the absent Victoria Winters (groan). I'd been hoping the buildup would lead to a surprise revelation that the child was someone else. That would have been interesting. In fact, having an evil mind, I was hoping it would be Carolyn's husband Ned! Hey, Roger was married to his grandmother...

Puzzling and unpleasant: when Maggie said, quite seriously, that Quentin was the first man she'd cared for in the I-forget-how-many years since Joe Haskell's death, many fans laughed. Coming when they did, the laughs implied they thought the idea of Joe's being dead was funny. The actors looked as startled as I was.

Loose ends: Sebastian Shaw had been catatonic for years (Angelique succeeded in activating him as a zombie). But the script never explained why he was catatonic--or, for that matter, how the still-young Joe Haskell had died. Some fans think a continuation is planned.

We got only a quick look at Jamison Selby. He appeared to be a dreamboat. I was less interested in the play than in him!

The Sunday night banquet was an even worse disaster than usual, with its interminable waiting lines--first just to pick up tickets, then to get in the hall. The process was delayed by autograph-signing still going on. That's always a problem, but it was compounded by Nancy Barrett's not having been available to sign at any other time.

Someone on a list I'm on later made a nasty comment about "handy's and some of the elderly" being allowed in the banquet hall early. The "handy's" slur was despicable. As for the "elderly," fans had been standing in line for hours before volunteers offered to let those over age 60 go in. I'm 64, and I didn't take them up on the offer. An older friend did--and yes, she held seats for another friend and me. Even if friends are separated in the crush going in, the first one to reach a table always tries to hold some. But aside from being together, the seats were terrible. Of course we didn't have a star at our table; I've only had that experience once, in 12 Fests. But beyond that, we were far from the podium and our backs were to it, with chairs jammed so close together that it would have been difficult to turn them around. I say "would have been" because I left early.

I have an ileostomy. To prevent its interfering with my activities, I'd eaten nothing all day since a light breakfast. And I had to be careful not to eat too much before going to bed. If we'd eaten at, say, 9:00, I would have felt free to have my roll, all my chicken, maybe about three mushrooms--and dessert, if it was something I liked (it wasn't). Eating after 10:00, I had to make do with half my serving of chicken and one mushroom. Bon appetit! Then I kept lights on all night, so I wouldn't sleep soundly and be at risk of an accident.

I later learned they never were able to fit in all the intended programming at the banquet--hotel management threw them out of the hall at midnight.

This year there was more after that night: a trip to Newport, R.I. on Monday, Labor Day, to see the "Blue Whale" (a bar actually called the Black Pearl) and "Collinwood" (a mansion called Seaview, now a university dormitory, which we knew we wouldn't be allowed to go in). Only the exteriors were used in DS.

One of my friends had sent her money in late and wasn't able to go. But I'm glad she didn't leave the banquet when I did. She phoned me later to say that before it broke up, Jim Pierson had announced that the time we had to assemble in the morning was being moved up from 9:30 to 9:00! Yeah, right, that was a great time to announce it...

As it turned out, the trip didn't start till 10:15--after fans had been lined up outdoors, in a cold drizzle, for a half hour.

We got the word at some point that half the group (which filled five buses, plus a spare that broke down along the way) would be going first to the port area and then to the mansion, the other half the reverse. I think that was a formal announcement and not a rumor, but there was so much confusion I'm not sure.

Our driver took us to...a big parking lot, where he expected us to leave and be on our way. Our way to where? No one knew! We didn't know whether we were supposed to be within walking distance of the mansion or the bar. Apparently, the driver didn't know either. We were sent off to explore while we were all still asking plaintively, "But where are we?" (At some point, someone had said our destination in Rhode Island was "across the street from the Mudville Pub.")

Then we realized we were being shooed in the direction of a Visitors Center. Ah, that would solve all our problems! A friend and I were sticking together, as were other friends; but otherwise, the DS group was getting mixed in with all the other tourists who (inexplicably to me) wanted to stroll the streets of Newport.

It did at least become clear that we were in the port area. A guy in the information booth (inside a good-sized Visitors Center building) gave each of us a map. He told my friend and me how, supposedly, to get to the Black Pearl Bar: go outside and turn right, and it would only be a 5-minute walk. "You can't miss it."

So...we walked for at least 15 minutes and didn't see it. And the maps, of course, were no use at all. The place important to DS fans wasn't of enough interest to anyone else to be shown on them.

We came to a smaller, outdoor information booth. This time, before we even got our mouths open, the woman in the booth said laughingly, "Looking for the Black Pearl?"

She told us we had to go three more blocks, and it would be on our right. I don't think she was any more explicit than that, though I was already so frazzled and frustrated that I may have forgotten something she said. All I know is that I was still expecting a building on the main street we were on, with a prominent enough sign to justify that "you can't miss it" line.

We walked more than three blocks. No Black Pearl.

It was raining off and on, I was freezing (and coming down with a cold), and in general, we were ready to climb the walls. We ran into other fans who were even more confused than we were--wondering if they were supposed to be hiring cabs and getting themselves to the mansion!

We kicked around the idea of giving up and going back to the bus. But we'd really hoped to see the Black Pearl. I'd fantasized about having a nice relaxing drink there...and as our mis(?)adventure dragged on, I found myself wanting that drink more and more.

Finally, we headed back. For some reason, I didn't recognize the storefronts we were seeing, and I began to fear we'd somehow gotten onto another--wrong--street. But then, suddenly, we ran into people who were saying, "Looking for the Black Pearl? It's down there!" It was on a side street--only one block, but a long way from the main street, with a sign so inconspicuous that even after people had pointed it out and my friend had spotted it, I still didn't see it. And not because of any problem with my eyes--it was just an out-of-the-way sign.

When we got there the place was jammed. It was small, and people were being told there was a 35-to-40-minute wait for a table. None of us DS fans could stay that long. Having a drink at the bar (which was all I'd wanted) would supposedly be possible. But it was a very small bar, about 8 stools. And people were sitting there--inconsiderately, in my opinion, with others wanting drinks--to eat full meals.

So we left. Grrr!

We started back toward the bus, still far from happy. We reached the Visitors Center, where my friend was interested in things in the gift shop. I wasn't. The truth is that everything about the place, aside from the DS connection, bored me to death.

We'd just passed a Marriott Hotel, across a driveway from the Visitors Center. I said to my friend, "You know what? I'd like to go in the Marriott and have that drink I've been talking about in the hotel bar! Okay with you if I go?" I didn't want to press her to go with me, because she hadn't shown any interest in drinking--and if we split up at that point, we were so near the bus there would be no risk of either of us getting lost. But I was happily surprised when she said she'd go with me.

We went in the Marriott, and I asked a hotel employee if there was a bar. He said in a friendly way, "Yep! Up these stairs, turn left, and it's at the end of the hall."

The bar was right where he said it was...but it was closed.

So we straggled out of the hotel and started across the driveway. For some reason, I looked to my right, down a side street on the opposite side of the main street. I'm a bus rider, used to trying to identify buses by the lengths of the words on their signs before I can actually read them. Now I looked down that street and said, "Hey, I see a sign sticking out whose second line, from the length of it, might be 'Inn.' Want to walk over and see if that's a place we can have our drink or whatever?" My friend was game.

As we got a little closer, I said, "Hmm. I don't think the word is 'Inn.' But it's short. It could be 'Bar.' "

It was neither. It was in fact..."Pub"! The Mudville Pub, which I'd thought was merely someone's joke!

Bliss! This was heaven, just the kind of spot I'd dreamed of. It was 4 o'clock; I said that since we were due back at the bus at 4:40, we should allow ourselves 20 minutes, 25 max. That was fine with my friend. I had a great Merlot (and some water with which to take Tylenol for my developing cold); my friend, who, as I'd guessed, didn't really want a drink, had tea and a salad.

There was only one teensy problem.

I'd misremembered the time we were due back--the buses were scheduled to leave at 4:20!

We were walking along the street--fortunately!--as they were leaving without us at 4:30. We ran and screamed, and our driver let us on. (Applause! And later, quite a bit of joshing.) I apologized to the driver--made it clear that we hadn't lost track of the time, but had been watching it carefully and just misremembered the time we were due back.

I guess my friend had trusted me to remember. If she'd expressed even a faint doubt, I would have said, "Yikes! Let's go back early and be on the safe side!"

I did misremember what the driver told us, but as I look back on it, I become more and more convinced the error was excusable. It happened because we were all so confused, frustrated, and agitated about the lack of guidance we were receiving.

Here's how I think the tour should have been done. There should have been one or two knowledgeable volunteers on each bus, who'd say at the outset: "If you want to explore on your own, that's fine. But for those who want to remain a group, come with us. We'll lead you straight to the Black Pearl." What could be simpler?

Until well after I returned home, I thought that if the buses had left without us, we would have had to make our own way back from Newport, R.I. to our hotel in Brooklyn. But I eventually realized we would only have had to wait for the other buses, the ones that had gone to the mansion first. Even if we had to sit on the floor, I'm sure they would have let us on.

Seeing "Collinwood" was a treat, but I wasn't as interested as were most of the others in looking at it close up, hearing about the interior and the history of the building. The building per se didn't interest me, only the DS connection. In fact, I might have been content with looking at it from a bus, just having the knowledge that I'd seen it with my own eyes.

But everyone spent a lot of time walking around it and down toward the coast. I was freezing, had a sore throat to boot--and ultimately realized I needed to go to the bathroom, to empty my ileostomy pouch. (Though all I'd eaten all day was one buttered croissant for breakfast.) "Fine," I thought, "I'll go back to the bus and use the lavatory while it isn't moving, and then I can stay on the bus and warm up." But it turned out the buses had left, and wouldn't come back till shortly before we were due to leave. (shiver shiver)

When our bus got back I was second in line for the lavatory, and was able to use it while the vehicle wasn't moving. But I couldn't lock the door! I turned the handle in the direction the instructions said, but I didn't have enough strength in my hands to accomplish whatever maneuver was required to lock it. Embarrassing!

After I used the toilet I couldn't see any way to wash my hands, and had to leave them unwashed. There must have been a way intended, because I saw a sign saying not to put paper towels in the toilet. Could it be the sink would only pop into view when someone had the door properly locked? Or was the sink right under my nose, and I so flustered I didn't see it?

There was such a line waiting for the lavatory when I came out that I felt obliged to explain about my ostomy. Charming.

My misery wasn't over. When we made a pit stop at a McDonald's on the way back to New York, I needed to empty the pouch again. (Could have gone without emptying it--both times, actually--but I feel more comfortable when it's empty.) There was a waiting line in the women's rest room. When I was next in line, a little girl--whose mother was with her--dashed out of the end stall and into the one next to it. Her mother was waiting for her. I assumed the youngster had left the first stall because it didn't have any paper. But the mother, believing I was holding back because I thought she wanted to use it, gestured to it and said, "Go ahead! I'm only waiting for her." I peeked in the stall and saw that it did have paper. So I decided the little girl had just been horsing around, and went in.

When I was in the middle of emptying my pouch, I discovered why she'd left. The door wouldn't stay closed!

Can you picture me, trying to juggle an ostomy pouch and simultaneously keep pushing the door shut? Finally, thank heaven, I managed to get my tote bag into a position that would hold it shut.

Aside from our seeing the Black Pearl and "Collinwood"--which was, admittedly, the point of going--the only good thing that happened all day was that we arrived back at our hotel at almost exactly the planned time of 10:30.

I seem to have had bad karma throughout this Fest. And I doubt I'll ever attend another DS event. I've sworn off flying since 9/11, at least without better reason than a fan convention. New York is the only convention site I can reach without flying; the city is far from a favorite of mine, and this New York con may have been one too many.

But I'll always be able to say my friends and I were victims of...the Curse of the Black Pearl!

(The End)