Historic Eaton Co. courthouse hosts macabre festival


Festival of Oddities

Saturday, Sept. 5, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Courthouse Square

110 W. Lawrence Ave., Charlotte

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FRIDAY, Sept. 4 — A reptile room, true crime authors, paranormal detectives and ghostly photo sessions — all of that and more is on the docket for tomorrow’s second annual Festival of Oddities at the old Eaton County Courthouse in Charlotte.  

Though this year has scaled back thanks to the coronavirus — a meet and greet with Ari Lehman, the original Jason Voorhees from “Friday the 13th,” was canceled — organizer Jenn Carpenter opted to push forward with a plethora of safety precautions. Above all, masks and social distancing are mandatory, and there will be multiple stations distributing hand sanitizer. Attractions that couldn’t be performed safely, such as a dunk tank, were removed altogether.

“We were able to pause things until we had a good idea of what to expect and what we would be allowed to do. It’s more of a creepy farmer’s market than a full-size festival this year,” Carpenter said. “The courthouse square space we’re using can hold 200 vendors and we only have 34 — there’s a lot of space between vendors..”

True crime aficionados can get their fix of murder tales and paranormal mysteries through meet and greets with macabre Michigan authors, including Tobin T. Buhk and Rod Sadler. Sadler’s forthcoming book, “Killing Women,” due for a Sept. 22 release, tells the true story of East Lansing serial killer Don Miller.

Carpenter said the 19th century courthouse has its own history attendees will find themselves fascinated with. Many of the crimes Carpenter covers in her true-crime podcast, "So Dead,” come to their conclusion when the perpetrator meets their fate through sentencing at the very same courthouse.

“All of the cases that I’ve ever talked about that were in Eaton County up through the ’80s were tried there,” Carpenter said. “The courthouse has a reputation for being haunted. I’ve had some experiences there myself, and we’ve got Portal Paranormal Society doing an investigation after the festival.”

But Festival of Oddities isn’t entirely about death and ghouls. Somehow, there is also room for animal lovers. Saved by Zade, an animal rescue operation that finds homes for stray cats, will have a tent in the courtyard where people can cuddle with and, if qualified, adopt kittens. Inside the courthouse, Saving Scales, a Michigan-based reptile rescue organization, will have snakes on display, some of which will also be available for adoption.

Those who wish to take home a souvenir that lets them pretend to be a ghostly part of the courthouse’s past can do so through a novelty photo session with Erica Jo Photography. This year’s theme provides participants with portraits that transform them into gothic, late 19th century Midwesterners. Think a slightly creepier twist on “Little House On the Prairie.” 

And what’s a good festival without some grub? There will be plenty of vendors and food trucks supplying snacks in the courtyard.

“There’s lots of odd stuff. The whole thing is about weird history, true crime, paranormal activity — the courthouse brings that all together and it’s beautiful. It’s the perfect spot,” Carpenter said.


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