When Blairstown Became Scarestown: The Filming of Friday the 13th
By Joanne M. Austin
“We ain’t gonna stand for no weirdness out here.” – Officer Dorf, Friday the 13th
On an early Sunday winter afternoon, Main Street in Blairstown is quiet, with patches of snow and ice lingering on the shady side of the street. A few people are about, walking around and visiting the businesses that line the road: gift shops, a hairdresser and barber, a pub, a café, a health food store, and also the Blairstown Museum, which is where I’m headed.
There’s a mannequin in the museum’s front window, wearing a dress from an earlier time. Upon entry, a giant bust of the town’s founder, John Insley Blair, in a glass case, greets visitors. To the right, there’s a comfy seating area, and all around the rest of the small room are glass display cases, with photos and other images lining the walls. To the back is a souvenir shop, and the only hint of Blairstown’s movie connection is a green “Camp Crystal Lake” t-shirt high up on the back wall. It’s only until you walk behind a shelving unit holding more typical souvenirs that you see the movie-related items: the Funko Pop Jasons, other items with Jason on them, and hardcover and paperback copies of one of the books written about the movie: On Location in Blairstown: The Making of Friday the 13th (David Grove, 2013).
Other than the souvenirs, it’s about as placid a setting as you can get. I sit down with Museum Curator Jeannette Iurato to talk more about the movie/town connection and the events that the museum is planning for Friday the 13ths to come (though not in January of 2023, as the museum is closed during the winter).
Jeanette and her husband, Tony, opened the museum in 2016, and soon realized there was something to the town’s horror-movie connection. For those who don’t know: Warren County was slasher-central in September and October of 1979, when three townships—Blairstown, Hope, and Hardwick—became filming locations for the original Friday the 13th movie.
Why Warren County?
Iurato referred me to the On Location book for the answer. Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco (North Bergen Boy Scouts), located in Hardwick, was chosen based on the recommendation of a friend of production designer, whose brother had gone to the camp. The director and screenwriter then “…worked out a deal with the camp’s proprietors—involving a modest ‘rental fee’—that gave the…production free run of the place throughout the months of September and October.” They were looking for a place to film that also could house crew cheaply, and No-Be-Bo-Sco fit the bill.
The same friend also recommended nearby Blairstown, according to On Location. It had a “great strategic location. It was a smooth 80-mile drive away from New York City where [Director of Photography] Barry Abrams and his crew were based. It was also close to Connecticut, where the production company was based, and Pennsylvania.”
When the cast and crew showed up in the fall of 1979, it “represented a mini-occupation for the township of roughly 4,000 people.” On Location says the production team met with town elders prior to filming to “foster cooperation and goodwill” between the two. One of the locals, Lt. Eric Kranz, appears at the end of the movie as a cop; just a few years later, he’d find himself working on the real-life unsolved murder case of Princess Doe (see this issue, p. XX). They were even able to get use of a fire truck and police vehicles. The former “was especially useful for creating rain effects.”
If you watch the movie, you know it rains a lot.
And Blairstown itself gets its close-up at the very beginning of the movie, when the doomed but perky character of Annie walks through it. You see her walk down Hill Street and then go through a street-level tunnel with four distinct brick and stone arches – that’s the old mill on Main Street. Soon after, you see her walking down Old Academy Drive, past Roy’s Hall (painted red at the time, now a bright blue) – heading right back onto Main Street. Without knowing the layout, you don’t know that Annie’s just making a loop in town. Considering her fate, she might have been better off sticking to that loop.
Today, most of the locals seem to embrace Blairstown’s supporting role in movie history (though I personally suspect some wish they drew more of a Bridges of Madison County crowd). But Iurato says it helps that the fans, who have all been really well behaved, bring in business, and the local naysayers are a very small minority.
Roy’s Hall, 30 Main Street in Blairstown, as seen in the 1980 slasher classic Friday the 13th (top), and how it appears today.
The fans come from all over. While I was there, a young guy walked into the museum and asked if there were any Friday the 13th items on display. He told Iurato that he and his girlfriend lived in New York and were staying at a friend’s timeshare in the Poconos, and they stopped in Blairstown on the way home specifically because of its movie connection.
Earlier in the month, Iurato says, three men from Russia showed up. “They were here working at the United Nations, and they’re huge Friday the 13th fans. They took an Uber out here. They could barely speak English.” Another man recently visited from Brazil. He “was here for a funeral in the Bronx,” she says. “And left his wife the day of the funeral to come here. She’s a big fan also and they talked about it and realized that they both couldn’t go; one would have to go to the funeral, and one to Blairstown, NJ. Since it was her family member, she went to the funeral.
While horror movie fans such as these have probably made trips into Blairstown since 1980 to check out “Annie’s Walk,” Iurato tells me that people really started to make the pilgrimage to Main Street about 15 years ago.
In fact, resident Jason Voorhees impersonator Matt Keller had been lurking around Blairstown on Friday the 13ths for about eight years prior to the museum’s opening. According to Iurato, he “just wandered around in the street with the machete and the mask, after contacting the police department ahead of time and giving them his personal info” to calm any concerns.
Be sure to look around, you never know where Jason might be lurking…
He was the lone Friday the 13th ambassador in the area until they opened the museum and got in touch with him.
“You’ve been doing this for eight years? Are you acknowledged by anyone?” the Iuratos asked Keller, and according to Jeanette, he said, “No, I just do it to do it. I love the fans, they come from all over the country, and it’s a photo opportunity for them, and I’ll talk to them about the movie or a filming location.”
Keller is now on the planning committee and has taken on a wider role in the Friday the 13th celebrations. Such as walker/stalker of the bride.
Yes. You can get a Jason-themed wedding in Blairstown. The first one occurred back in October.
Iurato currently has three packages for horror-buff couples, with names such as “Till Death Do Us Part” and “Happily Ever Slasher.” All of the packages are pretty generous in their offerings, and all include Blairstown’s resident Jason walking the bride or groom down the aisle. Two offer the addition of Jason driving the bride or groom in a convertible from the Sweet House in town to the Carriage House, where the ceremony is conducted.
I note that the “Slasher” package goes for $666, and Iurato tells me, “There are plans to add one for $1313.” It will add a reception with music and catering to the marital mix.
What a typical Friday the 13th on Main Street looks like
It’s all about celebrating the movie and making the fans feel welcome. Iurato says that people come early in the day to tour the locations, which are listed on a map available during the event. They can stop in the museum, which dedicates their displays to Friday the 13th memorabilia whenever there’s a month the fateful day occurs (in 2018, that’s April and July). There’s a Crystal Lake photo booth where they can take picture with an animatronic Jason – and the live Jason is also stalking about the town, as well as (oddly) Mrs. New Jersey. There are also vendors, and she hopes to add more that have a horror theme.
The other businesses in town participate, too. “Roy’s Hall airs the movie, and all the local restaurants get in on it,” Iurato says. “They change their menus. The pub across the street does Kevin Bacon burgers and Crystal Lake martinis. Because they change the menu items to fit the movie—it’s where the fans are drawn to.”
The Blairstown Diner on nearby Route 94 is also featured in the movie. It’s where camp owner Steve Christy grabs a bite to eat, not knowing that his teenage counselors are being slaughtered while he yacks it up with the waitress. Iurato says the Diner does really well on Friday the 13ths. “Business booms and it stays open late. The fans are very generous with tipping and they’re all very courteous.” Sadly, the owner, Panagioti “Pete” Apostolou died at the end of January 2018. According to his obituary, he owned the diner since 1990, and we here at Weird NJ hope his family can keep it open and contributing classic diner food with a side Friday the 13th memories for a long time to come.
The Trolley Tour
Also available is a trolley tour that takes 13 people (heh!) plus a guide on a tour of nine different filming locations, including the Moravian Cemetery in Hope and the sign in front of Camp No-Be-Bo-Sco. It’s a chartered tour that’s not confined to Friday the 13th dates: Contact the museum for more details.
Movie screenings at Roy’s Hall
Capping off the day for many visitors is a screening of the original movie, held at Roy’s Hall. Iurato told me that the demand is so great, there are currently four screenings, and that tickets always sell out well in advance. They can only be purchased online – so if you show up in Blairstown hoping to score a few extra tickets, good luck finding them. Visit the Roy’s Hall website for more information: https://royshall.org/.
Roy’s Hall as it appeared in a vintage post card from the 1920s (left), and perhaps an even earlier image (right).
Iurato and the rest of the planning committee have a lot of ideas for upcoming Friday the 13th celebrations, like a Dunk the Jason tank and a Running of the Jasons. If anything, they’re proving that the possibilities greater than the number of Jason’s returns from the dead.
While the museum is tiny—just 400 square feet—the Iuratos change up the exhibits every 60 days. They are also committed to contributing to the community in other ways, such as the food pantry located across the street. They really believe in giving back.
Thinking about going to Camp Crystal Lake?
We’ll be blunt: Go beyond the No-Be-Bo-Sco camp sign and you risk getting arrested for trespassing. The camp is an active Boy Scout camp during the summer months, and it is not involved with any of the doings in Blairstown. Their first concern is the scouts, and as they say on their website:
“As horror films don’t really fit well with the program of a Boy Scout camp, the BSA has not allowed movie fans to visit the birthplace of the most popular horror film franchise ever created.”
It’s a bitch to be an attractive nuisance. They didn’t cater to movie fans until 2011, when they first made an official, sanctioned, and highly coveted tour available to the public. Tours followed in 2013, 2015, and the last one scheduled was on October 13, 2017, which makes us think the next one won’t be until 2019? Anyway, tickets always sell out faster than the lifespan of a sexually active teen in a slasher flick.
So, how can you get a chance for a No-Be-Bo-Sco tour? First, play by the rules and don’t trespass: They say flat-out on their website that trespassing incidents make it hard for them to set up sanctioned tours. Next, visit their website (https://www.nobebosco.org/tour/) and sign up for their mailing list. Then check your emails for notification that tickets will be going on sale. The camp limits the amount of tickets they sell, and you can only buy two, which are a little pricey: over $100 each. We’ve heard that buying some swag from their souvenir store might also get that ticket email out to you sooner, so buy some Angry Mother t-shirts and bottled water. You help support the camp that way, too.
If you’re lucky enough to get tickets, you get to see the cabins in the film (the main cabin and the one Alice stays in) and Sand Pond, which is Crystal Lake in the movie. There are other activities scheduled and food, and the tour is about five hours long. Rumor is that they might be offering overnights at some point, too.
What about that Elston Oil truck?
To get from the fictional, mashed-up version of Blairstown/Hope to Camp Crystal Lake, Annie accepts a ride from a man named Enos, who is also the last normal person she runs into in her life. She climbs aboard his truck, which says “Elston Oil” on it and also the business location—Waterloo Road in Stanhope, New Jersey—and a phone number.
Considering the film’s budget and willingness to work local sources, this was likely a real business. Iurato says they’ve done some research on it: “They do still have an address, because we found some Dun and Bradstreet number for them, that the business is still registered. But only had a PO Box so I don’t know if there’s a physical location any more.”
In 2017, a reporter for lehighvalleylive.com called the number on the truck – modified for the current area code – and reached a business called Todd/Elston Oil Co. The business owner told lehighvalleylive.com that people still do call the number once in a while to see who will answer, including one person who drunk-dialed the number late one night and got the night manager. Wonder if they asked for Enos?
Visit the Blairstown Museum to see exhibits of movie memorabilia, like as handmade replica of Tom Savini’s original “Jason” mask worn by Ari Lehman in Friday the 13th, Part 1. The character’s physical appearance has gone through many transformations, with various special effects artists making their mark on the character’s design. Tom Salvini’s initial design has been the basis for many of the later incarnations.
You can find out more about all of the goings on that day at the Blairstown Museum’s Facebook page.
Come with us on a brief video tour of New Jersey filming locations for the classic 1980 horror / slasher movie Friday the 13th.
The preceding article is an excerpt from Weird NJ magazine, “Your Travel Guide to New Jersey’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets,” which is available on newsstands throughout the state and on the web at www.WeirdNJ.com. All contents ©Weird NJ and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.
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