She’s not a pretty sight, but then goblins rarely are, so we are told.
Most know her story. For those who don’t, Tall Betsy is the creation of the imaginative minds of the mother and grandmother of Cleveland businessman and philanthropist Allan Jones. His mom, Gincy, and his nanna, Marie Slaughter, used the legend of Tall Betsy to entertain a much younger Allan during his Cleveland childhood.
Like many adults, a love of Halloween never faded from Allan’s life, so much so that he resurrected the Tall Betsy character by giving her a face and a figure, and used her to entertain trick-or-treating crowds at his former Centenary Avenue home. The sheer enjoyment — which on Halloween night led to the handing out of 11,201 pieces of bubblegum from the Jones front door in 1993 — helped to launch what is now best known as the Downtown Halloween Block Party.
Tall Betsy’s ugly career spread like bat wings as the Block Party’s popularity, and crowd sizes, grew and grew and grew. Such growth was aided in part by the goblin’s annual appearance at the downtown spectacle each Halloween.
At more than seven feet tall, sighting Tall Betsy among the human masses came with little challenge for those basking in the fun of the Block Party, and before that by candy seekers who always traveled Centenary each Halloween night. Besides, Tall Betsy had a crooked nose and claw-like hands that made her the envy of all things Halloween and the creatures that savored this hallowed eve.
Perhaps it was her incredible height, bad knees or maybe even the disappointment of never trying out for the NBA (the WNBA wasn’t around back then) that led to Tall Betsy’s retirement in 1998. In her final appearance at the Halloween Block Party, she had helped to attract a festive crowd of some 25,000 enthusiasts.
Although retired, the sometimes misunderstood goblin was never forgotten. In 2005, she was honored by the Block Party in observance of her 25th anniversary.
Many miss this “gruesome girlie,” whose first public appearance came in 1980. Some might claim Halloween is not quite the same around these parts without her.
We would disagree. Yes, Tall Betsy is missed, but her legacy lives on. We have Allan Jones to credit for that, and her memory has helped to shape the Halloween Block Party into the popular festivity that it is today. The lively event continues to feel the footprint and positive influence of the Cleveland entrepreneur who year in and year out helps to recruit the live entertainment.
And now, Tall Betsy will be remembered through another means — film.
Last year, Allan partnered with Zac Adams, an award-winning filmmaker in Nashville whose talented company — Skydive Films — has produced a documentary about the Tall Betsy character and how it has impacted Halloween in this growing Southeast Tennessee town.
The film, which comes from the same creative mind that drew praises and collected awards with an earlier production of “The Bell Witch Legend,” has already earned a prestigious honor as well. It has won a “Telly” award, having been selected from among 13,000 entries.
Now all have the chance to be introduced, or reintroduced, to Cleveland’s favorite goblin.
The Tall Betsy documentary will premiere exclusively Sunday at 1 p.m. on WRCB, Channel 3. Its airing will be followed by “The Bell Witch Legend.”
The Tall Betsy film is narrated by Lynn Hoffman, host of A&E’s “Private Sessions.”
Adams cheerfully said it best of Sunday’s premiere, “It is time for the public to finally know the truth about who Tall Betsy was and why she came to such a sudden end. Tune in on Sunday. You won’t forget it.”
It is an exciting prelude to Halloween and next week’s Downtown Block Party.