By Michael Phillips

Louisville hasn’t always been known for its fascination with the undead. 

In the past 15 years, though, the world has seen zombies enter the pop culture mainstream. In that time, a number of zombie-related events have sprouted up across the world, often inviting guests to express their passion for the dead brought back to life. Between the popularity of The Walking Dead television adaptation of a comic series started by two Kentuckians and the year-over-year explosive growth of the Louisville Zombie Walk, Kentucky has become an unexpected hotbed for all things undead.

The Dawn of the Undead

In 2005, John King and Lyndi Curtis wanted to celebrate their shared birthday. They didn’t want to go through the same stale, routine birthday motions, though. No, they wanted their friends to join them as they dressed up as zombies for a night at the bars. Expecting only to be a small gathering of about a dozen or so friends, well over 100 people showed up dressed appropriately for the occasion. 

Since then, the zombie walk has exploded over the 14 years to become a late-August Louisville staple. One reporter estimated that the number of attendees in 2010 was 5,000. By 2013, that number grew to 30,000. The number of zombies attending the event has steadily risen since then, reaching a record-breaking 42,000 in 2018.

Its success is owed to many moving parts. For one, the event offers an inclusive space for people of all ages, races and backgrounds to come together for a midsummer zombie fest. There’s only one admittedly loose requirement: that attendees come dressed as zombies.

Originally called the Louisville Zombie Attack, the event has changed locations in the city in different years. While it started and has usually been held in the heart of Louisville’s Highlands neighborhood, the event hasn’t always stayed on the stretch of Bardstown Road between Grinstead and Highland Avenue. 

According to Insider Louisville, the event saw major success when hosted in the intersection of Barrett Avenue and Oak Street. The concept has remained the same despite the changes in location: Several horror enthusiasts dress up as and imitate the undead — fake blood and all. 

Marty Pearl | The Courier Journal

The Zombie Walk Rises from the Grave

The 2019 Louisville Zombie Walk marks its 15th anniversary. With a projected 45,000 people in attendance, the event is expecting its largest crowd yet. While it hasn’t yet been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records, the event is one of the largest, if not the largest, zombie walk in North America.

Bigger than any single person now, the event has a life of its own nourished by a number of local businesses up and down Bardstown Rd. The event has become a perfect opportunity for people to come together for a night of undead celebration.

One Kentucky native’s passion for the undead helped embed zombies into the nation’s cultural conscience. In 2003, visual artist Tony Moore illustrated the first eight issues of the Walking Dead, which has since inspired several more graphic novels, a wildly successful TV series adaptation, and a number of different video games.

On October 23, Kentucky to the World invites you to an intimate conversation with Moore. Hailing from Cynthiana, he’ll discuss his art, craft and Kentucky inspiration with University of Louisville professor Joe Turner. Join us at the Kentucky Center for the Colonel of Comics: Zombies, Anti-Heroes, and the Art of Tony Moore as we get a closer look into the mind of the foremost post-apocalyptic artist.

Finally, be sure to stay on the look out for one of our team members at the Louisville Zombie Walk on Saturday, August 24. We’re giving out limited-run program postcards that feature one of Moore’s alternative covers of the Walking Dead. Based on his hometown Cynthiana, the cover highlights his KY roots.

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