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Redo planned next year; organizer calls it a learning experience

by: CITY OF ST. HELENS COURTESY PHOTO - Although the St. Helens Paranormal Convention was scheduled, several events that were part of its itinerary went ahead as planned, including the Zombie Parade and Dog Walk, a Columbia Humane Society fundraiser in which people and their pets were invited to wear Halloween costumes for a walk through Old Town Saturday, Oct. 19. Pictured are Crystal Elstoen, left; Trevor Smith, middle; and Heather Mansfield, right.Plans for the St. Helens Paranormal Convention, scheduled for Friday, Oct. 18, and Saturday, Oct. 19, fell through with less than two days to spare last week.

The two-day convention was intended to be the inaugural edition of the event, which organizers hoped to use to draw as many as 100 visitors from out of town to St. Helens for the weekend. It was a marquee event of this year's Spirit of Halloweentown itinerary of happenings celebrating the Halloween season in the Columbia County seat.

Organizers admitted after the announcement that the convention would not be held this year that it had been troubled by a slew of speaker cancelations and ticket sales had been weak.

Jeannine “JJ” Duehren, who developed the convention and had a lead role in planning it, said Monday, Oct. 21, that about 30 tickets had been sold — just one-third of what she had predicted less than a week before. All were refunded due to the event cancelation, she said.

“We had been anticipating having a minimum of 90 sold,” said Duehren, a leading member of the St. Helens Economic Development Corp. “But the weather gods did not cooperate.”

Duehren blamed the unseasonably dry and sunny weather for the convention's failure to launch, noting that outdoor events like the Zombie Parade and Dog Walk that had originally been on the convention schedule — and went ahead despite its cancelation — drew strong turnout, and suggesting that rival attractions like the Pumpkin Patch on Sauvie Island attracted crowds at St. Helens' expense. She also said the convention had suffered for not having a “celebrity figurehead” to headline the event.

“The big thing is going to be getting a big name,” Duehren said, musing about how she will approach planning next year's Paranormal Convention. “You know, that's what I missed the boat on. That, and weather.”

The Paranormal Convention was marketed as a celebration of supernaturalism in St. Helens. Duehren is among those convinced that several buildings in the city, including the Riverview Place Apartments that she manages, are haunted.

“My shortcoming was thinking that just because it was a great concept … it was all going to fall into place,” Duehren lamented Monday.

Dean Cox, executive director of the Columbia Humane Society — which partnered with SHEDCO and the St. Helens Tourism Committee on this year's Spirit of Halloweentown events, including the canceled Paranormal Convention — said Friday, Oct. 18, that he found out the event was canceled only a day before it was supposed to begin with a series of seminars at the Columbia Center.

Signs of trouble were evident in the run-up to the convention.

Vancouver, Wash.-based paranormal author Jeff Davis, originally scheduled as Friday's keynote speaker, responded to a request for comment on his role in the convention with an email saying he would not speak at it after all on Oct. 2; he did not respond to a following inquiry as to why he canceled.

Duehren then said Oct. 9 that a brunch originally scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 20, had been struck from the itinerary, meaning Saturday night events like a dinner at the Klondike Restaurant and Bar and a movie night at the Columbia Theatre would be the final activities in St. Helens being held as part of the convention.

The movie night was ultimately canceled as well — Duehren said the theater was unable to find a scary movie to show — although events like the Zombie Parade and Dog Walk and the Haunted Hot Rods Cruise-In and Hearse Rally went ahead as planned Saturday.

Despite the failure of this year's convention, Cox and Duehren were upbeat about the prospects for next year. Cox said he believes the 2014 St. Helens Paranormal Convention will be a “humdinger.”

“I think overall, we're looking at it as a learning experience and a very positive thing, as far as the education's concerned,” Cox said. “And I can't wait for next year. I think we'll blow the doors off of it.”

Duehren appeared on Portland-based radio host Clyde Lewis's paranormal radio program “Ground Zero” on KXL-FM on Wednesday, Oct. 16, for a segment on reported paranormal ongoings in St. Helens.

Lewis said Monday that he is interested in speaking at and broadcasting from next year's convention after discussing it with Duehren and Chris Finks, St. Helens' tourism director, as long as arrangements can be made to accommodate him and his crew for two nights.

Lewis is exactly the kind of “figurehead” Duehren is looking for, she said Monday.

“If we can do that, then everything else will fall into place,” Duehren said.

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