Written by: John Edward Betancourt
I'm pretty sure a majority of people out there, myself included, have some kind of a bucket list. On mine, you'll find some epic goals that I work toward every day and then some ridiculously fun ones. The other day I checked one of those fun, no epic goals off of my list by watching Dawn of the Dead on the big screen, but I had hoped that I would have checked that goal off of my list way before accomplishing what I am writing about today, because one of my other goals in life was to see the Monroeville Mall from Dawn of the Dead and that one I managed to pull off many years ago.
In fact it was March of 2000 if memory serves me right when I was out and about on the East Coast visiting a friend and well, I thought it would be a kick ass idea to hit the highway and drive over to the mall because...why not? So I hopped into the car and made my way down the Pennsylvania Turnpike toward Business Route 22 toward my final destination...the city of Monroeville and the Monroeville Mall.
To see this iconic "movie set" was surreal to say the least. Only because when I arrived, the weather basically matched the movie's upon the group's arrival. But it was equally as surreal because of the fact...I had arrived. It was breathtaking to be honest and my first step was to park and walk the entire perimeter of the mall, taking it in before finding a seat at the Southeast Entrance, the exact place where Roger was bitten after they parked the trucks.
While I sat by the door however, I recalled, with good reason, the stories of how George Romero and company were forced to finish their work at seven a.m. every day due to the fact the muzak began to play and no one knew how to shut it off, and that many a senior citizen used the mall for exercise and the plan was to have the living dead, still in full makeup, avoid the early morning exercisers and avoid potential heart attacks from fright.
So imagine my surprise when out of the corner of my eye I saw a shadow in the distance, moving with a shuffle, only to have the light reveal a senior citizen, carefully walking the mall perimeter for his daily workout. I saw that as my signal to head inside and the mall did not disappoint.
I walked the entire place at least five times over. I saw the iconic water fountain. I walked the sales floor of J.C. Penny's and even rode the elevator where Flyboy met his gruesome end. I saw that the skating rink in the film had been converted to a food court, and I even bought a copy of the movie on VHS at Suncoast (remember those stores?) and educated the cashier over the fact that this movie was filmed in the very place she worked.
I even managed to head down the hallway that the main characters used early on in the film to get to their hideaway from the mall itself. I knew from doing my research that the hallway had a false wall in the movie, as since my visit revealed a side entrance, but more importantly this hallway led to the door of the community room where Tom Savini made his incredible creations.
I stayed at the Mall until well after sundown, enjoying lunch and dinner there because I simply had to take it all in. I mean how often does anyone get to visit the set of their favorite movie? Us Dawn fans are lucky because our set is still standing and to this day it hasn't fully sunk in that I have stood where Romero and company stood to make motion picture history.
But sadly, the mall no longer looks like it did in the film since time marches on and improvements and renovations are made, but it was still pristine when I was there, and regardless of the changes I need to go back. But until that day, I have my memories and my photographs, which I am happy to share with all of you.