Sunday, January 8, 2017
John DiDonna the producer of the Steam punk horror story telling group Phantasmagoria invited me to his home in Sanford for New Year's Eve. I of course expected lots of actors and actresses and was intent on sketching the midnight fire dance. House numbers were impossible to see at night, so we parked in the general facility and walked the neighborhood in search of the party. We walked past this state historic mansion even they I heard voices in the back yard. By process of elimination I finally decided that this had to be it. I heard John laughing in the backyard, so I walked across the lawn toward a gate on the side of the house. Of course most normal guest would knock on the front door, but I walked towards voices and then tried to open a stubborn old side gate. John saw me struggling and he came over to help me force the gate open. Bricks were piled everywhere and a garden hose slithered in all directions across the path. Guests were relaxing around a fire pit in the back yard. I shook hands with Seth Kubursky and hugged his wife Genevieve Bernard.
I was carrying a cold bottle of Prosecco and needed to drop it off in the kitchen. Dion Leonhard greeted us in the doorway. She grabbed the bottle and whisked us inside. She immediately started giving us a tour of the home. John and Dion had recent purchased the historic home from someone who had lost his partner and wanted to escape the memories. The price was a steal. An inspector working for John expected to find dry rot and structural problems, but after several hours, he pulled John aside and said "You have to buy this home." The original floor plans are hung in the entry hall and a giant staircase was decorated with dozens of framed theater posters. Dion pointed out what looked like a trap door in the floor. This is just on of six houses in Seminole county that has a basement. She opened the basement door, and I could see a skeleton reclined on a basement shelf. Original cabinetry, historic wallpaper and a giant four post bed really made the place feel like it had stepped back in time. The restoration is an ongoing project. Dion was very excited about a room at the top of the stairs that will soon be her dance studio.
The home has a ghost. The upstairs guest bedroom is where Minerva's body had been reclined for two weeks. It was a strangely long time to leave her lying there. It is believed that she still wanders the halls. It was getting close to midnight and Dion had to get ready for the fire dance. Guests gathered in front of the home and the Phantasmagoria fire dancers used the sidewalk as a stage. I decided that the best view was "backstage'" across the street. My friend was confused by my choice and she huddled together with the rest of the theater audience on the front lawn. The count down began... 10, 9, 8, 7, . . . A midnight everyone cheered and the flames ignited. Each performer had a torch candelabra with four or fire flames in each hand. A car driving by honked its approval. Fireworks were exploding all around the neighborhood. It felt like I was sketching war zone. Hours later I would learn that a terrorist attack happened at Reina nightclub as hundreds of revelers marked the new year. In the report I read, 39 had died. That number has likely risen. It felt like June 12th all over again. At the Orlando Tournament of Roses Parade a float with a giant dove and rose pedal rainbow reminded us all of the senseless loss at Pulse. New Year's Eve should be about new beginnings but madness prevails.