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The undead take Manhattan at Zombiecon '07

A visual recap of the annual pre-Halloween zombie flash mob.

What is a zombie, anyway?

Is it a childhood nightmare, a modernized niche of folklore, a box-office-tested horror film staple, an ironic riff on American consumerism, or simply an undead corpse hungry for fresh human brains?

Maybe it's all of the above. On Saturday at noon, somewhere around 200 zombies assembled at a bar in midtown Manhattan and proceeded to terrorize the city well into the night. This was Zombiecon 2007, the third annual edition of the pre-Halloween flash mob, and these reanimated corpses took the day very seriously. Among the crowd were undead clowns, airline pilots, ballerinas, doctors, chefs, Roman generals, prom couples, and tennis players. There were also zombified versions of Santa Claus, Pirates of the Caribbean protagonist Captain Jack Sparrow, singer Amy Winehouse, and author Hunter S. Thompson.

(Others, like yours truly, just spruced up jeans and a T-shirt with theatrical blood and white face paint.)

Also spotted: Lindsay Campbell, host of video blog Wallstrip, in a full-on goth-zombie ensemble as she interviewed fellow members of the undead for the cameras.

Zombiecon trekked from the Carriage House bar down 59th Street to the Bloomingdale's department store, accompanied by many a fake human brain and severed limb, where the group proceeded to stagger through the aisles in search of unwitting shoppers to devour. (As one organizer warned beforehand, "You bleed on it, you buy it!") The undead masses then arrived at 5th Avenue, where they performed an unrehearsed version of the dance from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video across from the iconic Plaza Hotel, and headed southwest to Times Square, demanding tourist brains the whole way. (There were, additionally, multiple pit stops at bars, because apparently Bloody Marys come a close second to bloody brains in the food pyramid of zombie nutrition.)

To my chagrin, the undead did not stop by the Apple Store like their San Francisco brethren did several months ago.

The zombies then went underground, taking over several cars of the Q line subway downtown to the Tribeca neighborhood where a branch of the local makeup and costume chain Ricky's had generously offered Zombiecon free drinks and a sizable back alley for posthumous revelry. Neighbors, however, pushed the zombies to the nearby MI-5 bar, where the party kept on going.

Throughout the day, most bystanders took the sight of dozens of undead corpses remarkably well, including those behind the wheels of cars that the zombies would jump at while crossing the street. Unfortunately, crowds at the Disney Store in midtown weren't too amused when the zombies walked into the kiddie haven. Many of the younger shoppers proceeded to scream and cry in legitimate terror, and the store management apparently wasn't too happy.

"Childhood traumas were being created by the moment," observed one of the zombies, who in life was known as Jim Glaser of Costume Network. The pricey Gucci store down the street took tighter measures and locked its doors before any zombies could enter.

Municipal authorities were remarkably laissez-faire when it came to Zombiecon; after all, no one was hurt and no one's behavior overtly seemed to warrant arrest. The only part of the excursion where the police were particularly proactive was when Zombiecon approached St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, where a wedding party was assembled on the steps outside. Most of the zombies steered clear of the famed house of worship, sensing that there might be something a little bit sensitive about hordes of reanimated corpses crashing a marriage service. A few, however, climbed the cathedral steps and were promptly ushered away by police.

"Show some respect for the dead!" one zombie shouted in response.

For more photos, check the Zombiecon07 tag on Flickr.