Houston Llew – Spiritiles Artist

Written by: Francesco Vincenzo Iacono

Houston Llew

Houston Llew is a man with southern roots and all the charm to prove it. Houston’s kind heart, wit, and warmth emanate from his masterful Spiritile Collection. He took a circuitous route to the birth of Spiritiles.

As a graduate of Auburn University, Houston began a career in the corporate world. In 2008, he found himself unemployed in the middle of the great recession. Through fortuitous circumstances, Houston met the master enamelist Zingaro and followed him around, shadowing the artist around his studio until he gave Houston the keys to enameling that would later evolve into his first work – Spiritiles.

For months, Houston spent every waking hour over a kiln, experimenting and sketching. This tenacity kept him going so that when one thing wouldn’t work, he would step back, retool, and try a new path. He is infamous for “spitballing” ideas and trying seemingly crazy things just to see if they work. By harnessing that constant experimentation, his artistry evolved from enameled imagery to a combined image and story design. From the beginning, what pushed Houston forward was his uplifting thoughts and musings. This became the cornerstone of his work – create art that inspires, uplifts, and brings a hopeful connection to life.

Houston’s work in enameling is based on his belief that meaningful art is about emotion. Thus, every Spiritile created reflects a piece of our story. These icons stretch our memory and bring to mind the people we love, the things we cherish, and the passions we pursue. When Houston first started his artistic journey, he sought a medium to animate this inspiration. Vitreous enamel, the art of glass heat-fused to metal, is as ancient as Mesopotamia, with infamous historical artworks in royal jewelry and imperial treasures. It is an illustrious but little-known medium that Houston cast in a new form. With its metallic base as canvas and its myriad glass colors as “paint”, what makes this work unique is the story wrapped around the sides of each piece. Some Spiritiles quote authors and poets, other philosophers, and fellow artists, but every piece is designed to speak to our life and reach our emotive self.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, we caught up with Houston Llew and we asked him a few questions about his artistic influences, his career as an artist, his unique Spiritiles, as well as his marketing approach to reaching his collectors.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: How and when did you decide to embark in your profession and who or what influenced you to become an artist?

Houston Llew: I started enameling in a poorly constructed leaning garage in Atlanta, Georgia. In the middle of the great recession, during a record-breaking hot summer, I found myself unemployed. Through fortuitous circumstances, I befriended the master enamellist Zingaro. I shadowed the artist around his studio until he finally gave me the keys to enameling. This would later evolve into my first works ─ Spiritiles.

For months, I spent every waking hour over a kiln, experimenting, sketching, living on only “Ramen Noodles and Beer”. The only reason my art exists today is because I had no other option ─ no job to fall back on, no security other than what I could create myself. Tenacity keeps me going. When one thing doesn’t work, step back, retool, and try a new path.

TCS: What is a Spiritile?

HL: Spiritiles are enameled artworks that create happiness, spark joy and brings hope to each person who encounters them.

Each piece is made by hand with a copper canvas and colorful glass. The enameled image is enhanced by the natural “crazing” which magnifies the luminescence of the glass. This image is coupled with an uplifting story that wraps around the edges; each Spiritile is as unique as its collector.

TCS: What three words best describes your specific style of artwork?

HL: The three best words would be:

  • Unique
  • Luminous
  • Collectible

TCS: How do you make a Spiritile?

HL: First by laying powdered glass, or “frit,” onto a perfectly cut copper canvas, using a series of stencils for each layer of color, playing cards, and hand sifters to carve out the design. Once delicately aligned and layered, the glass and metal is carefully placed in the red-hot kiln.

TCS: Is there one specific thing that makes Spiritiles meaningful?

HL: I believe that meaningful art is about emotion. Thus, every Spiritile created reflects a piece of our story. These icons stretch our memory and bring to mind the people we love, the things we cherish, and the passions we pursue.

TCS: What do you feel makes them a unique piece of artwork?

Spiritiles offer community – a tangible, familiar image paired with a beautiful sentiment. When collected, Spiritiles become a montage of moments that make us smile, laugh, remember, and dare to dream. As gifts, they share brilliant moments with the people you love or admire. Whether it’s commemorating an important milestone like a big birthday, wedding, a graduation, first home, or even a sales goal exceeded, Spiritiles are the perfect way to honor the moment.

TCS: What are the cracks in an enameled piece?

HL: When the enameled piece is removed from the kiln it’s cooled under a planchet. The natural “CRAZING” occurs in enamel. It increases the luminescence of the glass.

By rolling a pin over the surface of each piece after cooling, the light refraction in the glass increases and the enamel becomes malleable enough to frame.

TCS: How do you hang a Spiritile on a wall?

HL: Typically, you can use 1.25″ drywall screws. The hole in the back is at a slight angle, so the weight will pull it to the wall.

The ideal spacing is 2″ between tiles. This puts screws at 7.25″ apart horizontally and 10.5″ apart Vertically.

TCS: What provides you with ideas and inspires you to create such beautiful tiles?

HL: Neither image nor story come first.

Before any of that there is that raw emotion. Every piece is designed to speak to our life and reach our emotive self. The imagery & medium are very engaging, but the story is where I’m able to gain access to the emotional connection. I spend great care crafting how I want each syllable to make you feel. Stealing & bending the words from others to create my own sentiments.

TCS: Over the course of your career, what is your favorite Spiritile?

HL: It’s always the one I’m currently working on! So, by the time you see it… it’ll be something else. I sort of live in the moment when it comes to my favorite art.

Picking a favorite would be like picking between your children. I’m proud of all of them equally (most of the time)!

TCS: How do you market your Spiritiles and do you participate in any public appearances?

HL: We only sell through our select Retail Partners who have brick and mortar storefronts. Human interaction is what Spiritiles are all about. We used to attend Markets around the country but more recently we’ve been fortunate enough now to have Retailers hear about us from seeing us in other partner shops during their own travels. So, essentially, we’ve been operating mainly by word-of-mouth!

In the past, I have done shows with our Partners in which I would visit and sign Spiritiles for collectors who attended, but when our first son was born, they became less and less frequent. Equally, we were then all stuck at home for a while due to the pandemic, so travel was severely diminished over regulations. So, the short answer is, it’s always a possibility. Additionally, it’s a great reason to have the opportunity to meet with collectors from all over the country!

TCS: What do you say are the best and worst parts of being an artist?

HL: The best thing is being able to see the smile and joy that I can bring to collectors. Seeing their personal connection to Spiritiles is exactly why I wanted to create them in the first place.

The worst thing is perfectionism. In every Spiritile, I can always see just one more week one more color change. I always feel just one more thing could have made it just a little tiny bit better. I don’t know when to stop getting lost in the trees for the forest so it’s necessary to have a team that tells me to step back and take a view from further out.

TCS: Every artist has at least one important tool that they can’t live without, so what’s the most indispensable item in your studio?

HL: The people. The team I work with makes everything possible that you see at Houston Llew!

TCS: What advice do you have for young artists who want to make a living through their art?

HL: My advice for young artists is for them to go to business school and study business.

About Francesco Vincenzo Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Since 2012, Francesco Vincenzo Iacono has served as the President and CEO of The Creative Spotlight, the ultimate destination for unearthing a wealth of undiscovered musical talent, reading exciting interviews, releasing new music and sharing exclusive videos.

Every good story needs a good storyteller. And, The Creative Spotlight has truly provided a quality forum for revealing those great stories. Through the years, the online publication has featured national and local musicians such as Ash Costello from New Years Day, Williams Honor, Stacey David Blades, Screaming For Silence, Ages Apart, Roxy Petrucci, Peter Beckett, We The Kings, Everything Falls, Rod Black, Derek Crider, Daniel Mason Band, The Rockin’ Krolik, Michelle Leigh, Jessie G., Karen Mansfield and Hillbilly Vegas.

Additionally, The Creative Spotlight has also focused on historic Pennsylvania-based paranormal venues such as the Eastern State Penitentiary, Pennhurst State School and Hospital, Paranormal investigator Kitsie Duncan, Spirit Medium Tiffany Rice, the Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride, well-known actors and actresses, published authors, professional artists, local businesses, consultants, trainers, speakers and more…

Francesco earned a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he also received a Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.


Michael Mogan – eBeach Wagon

Written by: Francesco Vincenzo Iacono

Michael Mogan

Michael Mogan is a well-rounded Professional Engineer (PE) licensed in both the states of Pennsylvania and Delaware. During his career, Michael has specialized in highway engineer design and project management. Mr. Mogan has had experience with exposure to many disciplines including traffic, structures, survey, right-of-way, utility coordination, drainage, stormwater management, erosion control, environmental clearance, public involvement, highway lighting, and much more.

Michael has successfully led roadway design efforts from conceptual plans through construction services for many different types of facilities from rural local roads to limited access interstate highways. Mr. Mogan has delivered projects for clients including PennDOT, DelDOT, Montgomery County, Amtrak, and SEPTA.

Michael’s interest in product design started as a child tinkering and building various contraptions in his family’s garage. His father was a tin knocker who had a variety of tools. He started showing his son the ropes at a young age. It started in Cub Scouts where they built the sharpest looking pine wood derby car. As Mr. Mogan got older, he grew from his father’s assistant to developing creations of his own. His first prototype, that would be patented over 25 years later, was developed in that very garage. In high school, Michael gained experience in mechanical drawing as well as computer aided drafting (CAD). It turned out he had a knack for laying things out just like his old man. This accelerated the development of his skills and fueled his creative fire.

Michael initiated the building of his electric beach wagon after he and his wife, and their yorkie, experienced some difficulties carrying their gear and supplies across the sandy beach. Later, after the birth of their son, trips to the beach became more difficult as the weight and gear increased. What was supposed to be a fun, stress-free day, began and concluded with stress and angst trying to transport the necessary gear. It was then that he began researching electric beach wagons. The invention already existed at the time, but there was significant room for improvement in the design.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, we caught up with Michael Mogan where we talked about his work as a PE, his educational background, his latest creation known as e-Beach Wagon, his work with Gembah in designing the wagon, his strategic marketing and advertising plan, and his advice for young entrepreneurs.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: What made you decide to set up a business model like e-Beach Wagon and embark on your career choice as an entrepreneur?

Michael Mogan: I’ve come up with decent ideas in the past, but I’ve only seriously pursued a few. This idea solves a common problem, appeals to a broader market, and applies to parents trying to simplify life with kids. People will do almost anything to make raising kids easier.

When doing research, we found there was only one competitor in this space. We didn’t know about the product until we dug deep, so we felt by doing a better job with the marketing, we could boost sales easily. Also, we felt the price point of the competition was too high and we could develop a better, less expensive alternative.

It also helped that I received my wife’s blessing to pursue this opportunity. Tara is a marketing expert, so with her support, we can make this thing take off. We make a good team. I’m the engineer that determines the design and logistics, and she’s the marketing guru that gets the word out there.


TCS: For the benefit of those who are not familiar with Michael Mogan, please share with us your education, certifications, training, and/or additional qualifications that you possess?

MM: I graduated from Temple University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering in 2001. Since then, I’ve been working in the transportation industry as a highway engineer, project manager, and business line manager. I am a licensed professional engineer in Pennsylvania and Delaware. Civil engineering is not related to product development; however, some skills are transferrable, like how to read plans and understanding facets of design like computer-aided drafting (CAD).

I’ve had lots of ideas throughout my life and have always wanted to develop a successful product. I was recently successful in obtaining a utility patent for a new beverage can insulator. Although it has not paid off financially yet, I learned quite a bit about the patent process that is applicable for e-Beach Wagon. I was also exposed to manufacturing overseas and logistics to get the product delivered.

I also watch quite a bit of Shark Tank, which is educational. I understand what investors are looking for and what it takes to make a product a success. Translating that into a reality is where the challenge lies, which is what we are perfecting now.

TCS: Describe for us what you think makes e-Beach Wagon the best beach wagon on the market?

MM: One obvious thing that sets us apart from most other wagons is that it’s a self-propelled wagon powered by a 24-volt motor. You press down on the thumb throttle and the wagon moves itself, so it’s effortless to pull over 300 pounds of gear across the sand. There is only one other known competitor that provides a similar product called the SandHopper. These types of wagons are in a league of their own and are intended for the avid beachgoers that regularly carry lots of gear to the beach. If you’ve pulled a regular wagon or beach cart, you know the feeling of dragging your gear across the thick sand. Once you try e-Beach Wagon, you’ll never want to go back to the old wagon.

eBeach Wagon

When compared to the SandHopper, e-Beach Wagon is clearly the better choice. e-Beach Wagon has eight built-in pole holders for your beach umbrella, flagpole, or fishing rods. SandHopper charges an additional $100 for one pole holder accessory. e-Beach Wagon comes with tall railings and dual USB charging ports standard. SandHopper charges an additional $200 for tall railings and $100 additional for USB charging ports. e-Beach Wagon has a removable plastic wagon bed for easy cleaning; SandHopper doesn’t. e-Beach Wagon has an enclosed electrical and mechanical compartment; SandHopper doesn’t. For the price of a SandHopper with all the features that come standard on e-Beach Wagon, you’ll save over $600 with us. Plus, compare the look of the two wagons and decide for yourself which is the more attractive design. We think it’s pretty clear.

TCS: Tell us a little about how you decided to hire Gembah in November of 2020 and describe how they specifically help you with e-Beach Wagon?

MM: We solicited about five product development companies to help us through the process. While Gembah was not the least expensive, they provided the best proposal that laid out all the steps of the design process, and their price included all design phases. Other companies only provided the preliminary design costs, so the final design was a big unknown. They clearly understood the product I was trying to develop and had good thoughts on how to complete a quality design cost-effectively.

Gembah is a product development company that specializes in product sourcing and manufacturing oversight. They enlisted the support of Spline Product Development that led to the actual design of the wagon. We had a kick-off meeting where I shared my ideas on the functionality of the wagon and Spline came up with a great-looking design that accomplished everything we needed. Spline then created the prototype, which is the wagon that you see in all the marketing materials.

Gembah then sent a request for proposals out to their network of manufacturers overseas to bid on the manufacturing of the product. Gembah is currently helping us through the sampling phase to have a factory produce a “golden sample”, which is the perfect sample that will be duplicated by the factory in mass production. Gembah will provide quality assurance and quality control during manufacturing to ensure the factory delivers a quality product. They are also able to assist with other steps along the way like logistics if needed.

TCS: Tell us how the beach wagon is ideal for young family excursions?

MM: Families with young children carry a lot of gear and the kids are just too young to pitch in. Most manual carts and wagons can’t carry everything that you need on the beach, or to the park, or at the zoo. e-Beach Wagon is great for wherever you take the kids. It not only carries your gear, but the kids love riding in it too. The wagon works on any surface, so while it’s great through the thick sand, it’s just as good over grass, blacktop, gravel, dirt, mud, etc.

eBeach Wagon

TCS: When someone places an e-Beach Wagon order what is the expected turnaround time?

MM: We are currently accepting pre-sale deposits on our website at e-BeachWagon.com. Special offers will be provided to those who sign up for the mailing list. Wagons will be shipped in the order the deposits were received. We are still in the process of confirming the shipping schedule; however, we are expecting the first container to arrive in May 2022. Status updates will be provided to customers who order a wagon, and anyone can request a refund at any time. However, you will lose your place in line if you request a deposit refund. Since we will have limited inventory initially, we anticipate it will take a little while for the supply to catch up to the demand. The sooner you make a deposit, the sooner you will receive your wagon. It’s worth the wait!

TCS: With the max weight capacity of e-Beach Wagon holding over 300 pounds, the uses for the beach wagon are endless. What feedback have you received from customers?

MM: We haven’t delivered any wagons yet, but we have received lots of positive feedback from people on the beach that have seen e-Beach Wagon. Many people notice the cool-looking wagon and ask where we got it. When we tell them it’s our prototype and it’s electric, they are shocked. Most people have never seen an electric beach wagon before. When we explain the features, they’re very interested in purchasing one for themselves. Some people have even made good suggestions for different uses or accessories. For instance, someone recommended providing a chair attachment to transport mobility-impaired people. This will be one of the first accessories we will work on once we get the product out there. There are countless accessories we can provide to improve the beach experience for different folks. We are looking forward to the opportunity to make that happen.


TCS: I love the fact that the battery-charged wagon offers you a way to keep your electronics charged while out on the sand. How did you come up with such an awesome idea?

MM: This was one of the first features we discussed with the product development team. It comes standard on our wagon. Have you ever been to the beach and your phone or speaker dies? We have and that’s why we wanted the capability to charge your devices. The wagon comes with two 12-volt, 22 amp-hour sealed lead-acid batteries. The 22 amp-hour is like the Energizer Bunny on steroids. We’ve run that wagon up and down the beach for miles and have yet to kill the batteries in one charge. There is plenty of juice in those batteries to charge lots of devices. We even bought a battery-powered blender to make frozen drinks on the beach. So, we can keep the drinks flowing thanks to the wagon’s battery power. The applications are endless.

TCS: Can you briefly describe e-Beach Wagon’s strategic marketing and advertising plan?

MM: Right now, our focus is getting the word out. Build the brand and increase awareness. We know our demographic. We know which beach towns to target. And we know which marketing channels to leverage. Not only are we marketing to consumers but also businesses that rent beach equipment, as well as ocean-front resorts and hotels. We’ve currently launched grassroots initiatives such as door hangers, word-of-mouth referrals through community groups, and social media promotions. Digital initiatives are being developed as well.

To stay connected, please join us on the following:

TCS: Do you have a personal or professional mantra? If so, what meaning does it have for you, and how does it apply to your life choices?

MM: For sure, “Work smarter, not harder.” I’m always looking for ways to get things done with less work. I have a couple of DIY YouTube videos that provide a better way of doing things. My “How to Demo a Mud Wall” video (https://youtu.be/tI9LbrEUM1c) has saved many headaches. I enjoy problem-solving. If there’s a better way to get something done, I’ll try figuring it out. That’s one thing that makes me a good engineer. I wasn’t the first one to develop an electric beach wagon, but I developed a better product.

TCS: As an entrepreneur, what’s your single greatest achievement?

MM: One of my greatest achievements as an entrepreneur was getting a utility patent for CustACan, my beverage can insulator invention that slides over the top of a can and covers the entire can label. I came up with the idea about 25 years ago but didn’t start pursuing it until 2015. I originally tried submitting my own patent application. When the patent office reviewed the application, they recommended that I get the help of a patent attorney, so I let that application expire and enlisted the help of a patent attorney. Six years after I began the process, I was issued a utility patent for my invention. It was a learning process, but my persistence paid off.

TCS: What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?

MM: Be persistent, never give up on your dreams, and partner with others that are good at what you’re not. I went to school to be a Civil Engineer and I’ve been doing highway design for over 20 years. I was never totally happy because my creative urge was never satisfied. I wanted to use my creativity to design a product that was helpful to many people. I’ve tried in the past to design a product that didn’t take off. I could have given up and stuck with civil engineering, but I persisted and kept working toward my dream. Eventually, I came up with another great idea and worked hard to make that a reality. Starting a company while working a full-time job with two kids isn’t easy. If you’re persistent and don’t give up, it will happen.

Partnering with others that are good at what you’re not is extremely important in being successful. You’re not going to be able to do everything yourself. I came up with a good idea, but I couldn’t have completed the detailed design and then sourced the manufacturers to build it. I partnered with Gembah, and they enlisted Spline Product Development to complete the detailed design. Gembah is overseeing the sourcing and manufacturing so that I receive a quality product ready to distribute to my customers. Thankfully I married a very talented marketing guru, so Tara is leading the marketing and doing a great job getting the word out. I couldn’t do these things on my own, so it’s necessary to partner with others to reach your dreams.

About Francesco Vincenzo Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Since 2012, Francesco Vincenzo Iacono has served as the President and CEO of The Creative Spotlight, the ultimate destination for unearthing a wealth of undiscovered musical talent, reading exciting interviews, releasing new music and sharing exclusive videos.

Every good story needs a good storyteller. And, The Creative Spotlight has truly provided a quality forum for revealing those great stories. Through the years, the online publication has featured national and local musicians such as Ash Costello from New Years Day, Williams Honor, Stacey David Blades, Screaming For Silence, Ages Apart, Roxy Petrucci, Peter Beckett, We The Kings, Everything Falls, Rod Black, Derek Crider, Daniel Mason Band, The Rockin’ Krolik, Michelle Leigh, Jessie G., Karen Mansfield and Hillbilly Vegas.

Additionally, The Creative Spotlight has also focused on historic Pennsylvania-based paranormal venues such as the Eastern State Penitentiary, Pennhurst State School and Hospital, Paranormal investigator Kitsie Duncan, Spirit Medium Tiffany Rice, the Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride, well-known actors and actresses, published authors, professional artists, local businesses, consultants, trainers, speakers and more…

Francesco earned a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he also received a Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.


Tiffany Rice – Spirit Medium

Written by: Francesco Vincenzo Iacono


Throughout the years, Spirit Medium Tiffany Rice has always had a sense of “knowing”. Upon becoming a Reiki Master, a person who chooses to manifest the will of Divine energy here on Earth, Tiffany became aware of her senses and abilities increasing with each life event.

Being able to identify with fellow colleagues, Tiffany realized her gift of being a Medium was accelerating rapidly. At that time, she began to embrace this awareness and studied under her colleague and good friend (Spirit Sister), Maureen Hancock.

Today, Tiffany is a renowned Spirit Medium and former talk show host of Spirit Connections. She dedicates her life sharing her uplifting and enlightening gift with those that are going through various stages of grief.

Tiffany is highly intrigued by the paranormal and takes a very special interest in this field. She knows the paranormal is an extension of the Spirit World and finds this area captivating as it is still a continuation of our loved ones. Spirit simply chooses to have an uncanny connection to certain locations. The subject of paranormal activity spans over a wide range of topics and theories which she loves exploring!

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, we caught up with Tiffany Rice and we talked about her work as an evidential spirit medium, her work on Kitsie Duncan’s new show Paranormal Crossroads, her partnership with Dune Jewelry, her volunteer work with Aruba Animal Shelter as well as her short and long-term aspirations.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: What is your earliest memory where you realized you were gifted as an evidential spirit medium and how old were you?

Tiffany Rice: I’ve always had a sense of “knowing”. I can remember having conversations with people and as I looked at them, I could see information pop up about them around them in my mind’s eye. It took me years to realize that it was spirits trying to come through with information. I thought I was just weird. I took a class that I actually teach now on how to open up your own intuition. That’s when it really hit me with the connection to spirit. It was then when I knew had to continue to provide validations, messages and healing.

Tiffany Rice Spirit Medium

TCS: For the benefit of those who are not familiar with Tiffany Rice or your specific profession, please share with us how you first started out and how you have cultivated your psychic abilities?

TR: I’m a Spirit Medium. That means I’m able to connect to your loved ones in spirit whether it is family, friends and even pets can come through. I started with becoming a Reiki Master/Teacher learning more of an understanding about energy. I started telling people about my readings and it spread quickly. I was giving my friends readings and then their friends readings. I would go to people’s homes and do a reading of their home. The local historical societies started to hear about me, so they would have me go to their locations. I was able to connect the emotional side to the factual side for them. I never said never to an opportunity of connecting to spirit. I had found my passion. The healing modality of being able to connect and bring peace of mind during grief is priceless.

TCS: How did you know being an evidential spirit medium was the right career path?

TR: That’s simple, I had no doubt.

TCS: Please describe for us the different types of readings that you offer? Additionally, can you provide any advice on what someone should do to prepare themselves for a reading?

TR: Mainly people will contact me for my Medium readings which is connecting you to your loved ones in spirit. I also offer intuitive readings as well with a focus on clarity on current situations. To prepare for any reading, be open to the information being provided. Take notes. I can’t stress that enough! There’s always so much information coming through that when receiving the information, we may forget. It’s great to come back to put the puzzle pieces together. Also, it doesn’t hurt to set your intentions on the person you want to connect with or the question you want more insight on. I always say it’s the information that you need to hear not the information you want to hear. Be open!


TCS: Besides readings, do you offer any other services?

TR: Yes, I also teach guided meditation sessions to help clients get back to the basics. Today, more and more people are looking to get back to feeling focused and grounded meditation helps bring one that sense of clarity. Additionally, I’ve also created workshops to help hone in on your intuition and align with your own empowerment in order to live your true authentic self.

TCS: In 2008, you investigated the legendary Lizzie Borden House in Fall River, Massachusetts along with members of the then paranormal investigative team named SPIES. What can you tell us about your experience, especially since it was your first paranormal-based investigation and how it impacted/changed your future?

TR: It was my first investigation alright. Go big or go home! I had a group of friends that would go to all different locations whether it was well-known or even residential. They brought me in as their Medium. This experience was my first overnight investigation. I definitely felt a presence in Andrew Borden’s room. I wasn’t scared it was enlightening to actually feel energy that heavy. Since then I’ve done multiple gallery readings at that location. I do feel like I have a connection with Lizbeth since being familiar with her energy all of these years.

TCS: Can you provide us with some highlights from your 2015 appearance at the Rhode Island Comic Con, where you moderated a Ghost Hunters and Ghost Facers panel?

TR: I love being a guest at Comic Cons all over. I was given the opportunity to host the paranormal panel in Rhode Island. It was fun. I love my Ghost Hunter/Ghost Nation family. I’ve known them for quite some time. Ghostfacers was based off of the show “Supernatural” so their take on the Q&A was a little different than the guys that actually do the “hunting”.

TCS: Can you elaborate on your collaboration with our mutual colleague and paranormal researcher Kitsie Duncan on her new show, Paranormal Crossroads?

TR: Kitsie and I have been friends for years. I actually gave her a reading in a hotel room at one of the Comic Cons. I consider her another one of my “Spirit Sisters”. We connected. That girl puts her expertise at work when it comes to knowing her paranormal stuff. I’ve helped her with opening her intuition and we would always talk about our own personal spiritual experiences. She’s done her share of film with Oddity Files, which I’ve helped on a couple of cases remotely. Knowing that spirit comes through regardless of being present in the room together we figured we would put it to the test. She asked me to help with a few of her cases through giving a reading or I would say putting the puzzle pieces together and it seems to mesh really well.

TCS: Can you share some details with us about your partnership with Dune Jewelry and the creation of the spiritual Cardinal Necklace?

TR: I love women supporting women. Dune Jewelry is owned by Holly Daniels Christensen a total no nonsense business woman who knows how powerful keeping the memories alive are. She also has a heart of an angel. That’s all we have is our own personal life experiences. She created experiential jewelry to help keep those memories alive. We collectively are working on multiple pieces of jewelry that are currently in production. They symbolize mind, body, spirit.

The first piece that came out was the cardinal. Why the cardinal? Well, our loved ones in spirit show us signs to let you know they are with us. The Cardinal being one of the most common signs that hold a place in your heart. People have shared that they filled their piece with sand from all over, abalone shells, even roses. It really is beautiful to see how they keep their own personal memory of their loved one alive.

TCS: Do you have a professional or personal mantra? If so, what meaning does it have for you and how does it apply to your life choices?

TR: My trademark is “We Are Never Truly Alone.” I feel like we are connected to spirit all of the time. I also am a firm believer that the Universe will always provide you with what you need for your highest and greatest good. What’s meant for you will not pass you by. You have to remain in a love base of positive mental attitude releasing all doubt. There really is no other option. I know sometimes it might be difficult to see the whole picture at once, however, when you make that commitment the abundance will flow.


TCS: What is the most rewarding aspect of your volunteer work with Aruba Animal Shelter?

TR: I help give them a voice. There are animals neglected, abused and abandoned. Some countries I work with don’t have the funds to spay and neuter. I help create the awareness. I’ve gone to Aruba on a special mission to help local shelters care for these animals and get the word out to adopt. Most recently I created a fundraiser to help raise funds for food, vitamins and total care for these fur babies. Since posting we collectively have been able to get around 20 dogs adopted so far. I will always have a soft spot for animals. I have three dogs of my own.

TCS: Can you describe for us both your short and long-term aspirations?

TR: I would have to say being grateful to wake up every day healthy being surrounded by some pretty amazing people in my life. As far as career, I want to continue to provide healing and validate that your loved ones in spirit are here with you. It doesn’t matter where you are located, energy is energy. Your loved ones come through regardless. I want to be that connecter. Essentially,  reaching as many people as I can through spirit connections and total inspiration connecting you to your full alignment of mind, body and spirit.

To stay connected with Tiffany Rice, please join her on the following:

About Francesco Vincenzo Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Since 2012, Francesco Vincenzo Iacono has served as the President and CEO of The Creative Spotlight, the ultimate destination for unearthing a wealth of undiscovered musical talent, reading exciting interviews, releasing new music and sharing exclusive videos.

Every good story needs a good storyteller. And, The Creative Spotlight has truly provided a quality forum for revealing those great stories. Through the years, the online publication has featured national and local musicians such as Ash Costello from New Years Day, Williams Honor, Stacey David Blades, Screaming For Silence, Ages Apart, Roxy Petrucci, Peter Beckett, We The Kings, Everything Falls, Rod Black, Derek Crider, Daniel Mason Band, The Rockin’ Krolik, Michelle Leigh, Jessie G., Karen Mansfield and Hillbilly Vegas.

Additionally, The Creative Spotlight has also focused on historic Pennsylvania-based paranormal venues such as the Eastern State Penitentiary, Pennhurst State School and Hospital, Paranormal investigator Kitsie Duncan, Spirit Medium Tiffany Rice, the Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride, well-known actors and actresses, published authors, professional artists, local businesses, consultants, trainers, speakers and more…

Frank earned a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he also received a Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.


Donna Melanson: Azul Yoga

Written by: Frank Iacono


Donna Melanson, ERYT200/ RYT500, is an experienced yoga teacher who teaches weekly classes and special events in collaboration with businesses and corporations in the Boca Raton, Florida area. She has studied yoga principles for years but has been fully teaching since 2011.

Donna is the founder of Azul Yoga and Azul Yoga Institute. She recently graduated her inaugural class of yoga teachers who have been trained in the Melanson Method, which is an amalgamation of the best parts of her training in several yoga disciplines including Vinyasa, Restorative and Yin Yoga, Yoga Nidra, Pranayama, Vedic Thai Yoga, and Meditation.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Donna Melanson and asking her a few questions about her educational and professional background, her perspective on yoga, her wellness philosophy, her daily live video streaming Sunrise Beach Yoga and Meditation on Periscope and Facebook Live, her newly released book A Yogi’s Path To Peace: My Journey to Self-Realization and her podcast “The Silent Bit”.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: How and when did you decide to embark in your profession as a Yoga Instructor and how many years have you been teaching?

Donna Melanson: I became a yoga teacher after years of pursuing all the things that I felt that I should be doing; Go to college, start a family, provide for that family, keep your head down, sacrifice, and work. Divorced, single for ten years, raising children as a single parent, while being self-employed left me feeling very empty. I was very successful in business and then I wasn’t, life happened, as it always does and I found myself reinventing my life. This time I told myself I going to recreate my life in the way I want to live and be in this world.


At the time I was reflecting and making my decisions I owned 100 acres in the mountains of North Carolina I would go there often and hike the land and commune with nature. It was the first time in many years that I would do something for myself and I felt truly happy and at peace. As I walked in the silence of nature I kept hearing the chant “Yoga! Yoga! Yoga!” in my head in the way they said, “Toga! Toga! Toga!” in the classic movie Animal House.

I wanted to practice yoga at the top of the mountain for some unknown reason. I didn’t know anyone who practiced yoga, and really didn’t know much about it. I must have talked about it a lot because a friend gave me a 30 min VHS gentle yoga tape and a too small too flimsy yoga mat. I started practicing every day and it left me in a deeper state of peace. A state that I could be in without having to go into the woods. I knew then that this was the path that I wanted to go in. This is how I wanted to live in this world. I’ve studied for years and have been fully teaching since 2011.

TCS: In your own words what is yoga? Additionally, please discuss for us some of the benefits yoga has for children, teens, and seniors?

DM: Yoga is the uniting of the body, mind, and spirit, and it’s this union that allows us to live in a more effortless state of being. When our body is settled, our minds become settled, it allows us to see clearly. In this clarity we connect to the spirit not only within ourselves, but we begin to see this divinity in everyone else as well.


Yoga is perfect for children, teens, seniors, anyone, and everyone at any age, at any level of fitness, or any ability to stretch. We all have to start where we are with what we have. The first yoga sutra states that yoga begins now. Meaning now in every present moment. Our yoga practice is about introspection, so we’re tuning in to ourselves discovering more about yourself. Noticing habits and patterns while connecting with the true nature of who we are. We practice these things on the mat doing the best that we can in that moment even if the best we can do is just show up and imagine doing the postures in our head that day. We show up, we practice, we get stronger in both our mind and body, and we practice these things on the mat so that we can take them off the mat and into our lives.

TCS: For the benefit of those who are not familiar with Donna Melanson or Azul Yoga, please share with us your education, certifications, training, and/or additional qualifications that you possess?

DM: I’m an experienced yoga teacher ERYT 200/RYT500 and have also had formal training in Yin, Restorative and Vedic Thai Yoga. I’ve had the opportunity and benefit of being with some of the top teachers in this country, I love my training and I love everything about my job, and I will forever continue to be a student of this practice.


TCS: How many different types of yoga do you teach and is there one specific style that you prefer and why?

DM: I teach Hatha, Vinyasa, Restorative, and Yin Yoga. I prefer the mindful meditative gentle approach to any style I teach.

TCS: As a Yoga Instructor what is your overall wellness philosophy?

DM: Mindfulness.

TCS: What inspired you to write your first book entitled A Yogi’s Path To Peace: My Journey to Self-Realization and can you provide us with a high-level synopsis?

DM: Around the same time that I started practicing yoga my life was falling apart on every level and the feeling had been there for over 10 years. At the same time, I developed a yearning to share my story because I felt that deep down it would help others and in turn it helped me when the book was finally published.

This is where my story starts, in the middle of a crisis, on a mountain top where I hear a calling to practice yoga—developing a deep-seated belief that the practice of yoga would change my life.

I realized to become conscious you have to look at yourself in your entirety. I began by going back through the stories of what I had told myself through the years about life, marriage, children, my childhood and relationships. Doing this I became aware that the stories I told myself may have actually happened but then wondering did they really happen that way and do they still happen that way because we keep repeating the same stories in our mind and in our conversations. It’s as if it is a part of who we are but can we change the narrative, and do we really know what we want our story to look like. Belief is a powerful energy.

Donna Melanson Book Cover

In this book, I share my life, so you can see what it looks like to change the way you think in order to change the way you live, in three parts: Know Yourself, Love Yourself, and Be Yourself.

Part One – Know Yourself: You need to begin where you are today. Through self-study and digging deep into habits, patterns, right perception, misperception, and the awareness of all things.

Part Two – Love Yourself: Demonstrates how to clear a path to living your best life through journal entries, blog posts, positive statements and yoga.

Part Three – Be Yourself: Living your truth, which leads to peace and happiness.

TCS: While writing the book, what surprised you the most and what did you learn from the overall experience?

DM: From writing the book, what surprised me the most was that this feeling that this was something I had to do versus something I wanted to do, and that the feeling never really went away.

TCS: In your opinion, what do you think draws people to yoga and specifically to participate in your program?

DM: I think people are looking for something when they find yoga. And, I’ve often wondered what drawls people to my program. Certainly, there are many instructors who are stronger and more adept in the postures, and certainly there are people who are more well versed in every aspect of yoga. But what some have told me it’s just who I am, and I only assume that they yoga has changed me and does affect every sense of my being, and that people feel that.

TCS: What advice do you have for people who have never tried yoga? And, why do you think some people may feel intimidated by yoga?

DM: I think many people are confused about yoga and I have to admit it can be a little confusing if you don’t know anything about yoga because now there are as many types of yoga as choices in types of food. A big difference between a scoop of white rice and a meal that may be served at a fine French restaurant. Many people come to me and think yoga is about stretching, and others think it’s more of a power exercise class, where you need a prerequisite in gymnastics to attend. So it’s no wonder it’s intimidating.

Truth is, just like finding what foods you like. You may have to try a few different styles of yoga, and then once you fine a style that resonates with you may need to try like chef’s different teachers to serve that style to you. Whatever style resonates with you will all help to lead you down the same path. Many studios offer yoga basic classes to help you get started. Just remember it’s your time on the mat. Pay attention to your own body and do what’s best for you.

TCS: In a class full of people with wildly different aims, how do you strive to keep everyone engaged and motivated?

DM: There are many factors that can keep people coming to your class or keep them away. All you can do is show up and give the best class that you can at the moment. With the intention that they receive everything that they need at that moment.

TCS: Can you describe some of the safety precautions you take during your yoga class sessions to prevent injuries?

DM: I’m not a doctor, although I do know a lot about anatomy, therefore I never ask people about injuries. If, however someone wants to talk to me about their injury before or after class I’m happy to talk to them about how they can accommodate to protect themselves. During class, if I witness someone struggling I let them know that they are free to come out of the pose. I give everyone permission listen to their bodies and to not do any pose or adjust as needed. Yoga as I said is about self-awareness. We need to learn to tune in and trust our innate intuition on what is best for us.

TCS: Can you please share some details about your podcast “The Silent Bit” and where we can find it?

DM: I created the “The Silent Bit” podcast because I continually felt compelled to send Peace out into the world. I was feeling overwhelmed and didn’t want anyone to every feel the way I felt and that is why I am still doing my daily LIVE broadcast on Periscope as well as the podcast.

The Silent Bit

As yoga and meditation teachers, we are a kind of like nomads moving around from studio-to-studio sharing our practice, doing our small part. While sitting in the silence, I became curious as to what brought other yoga teachers to the profession. I wondered what they were trying to teach or communicate? I thought it would be interesting to be led through a meditation session with new yogis as everyone brings something different to the table and we all learn in different ways by trying different styles of meditation.

I started this podcast late April 2020 and at the time of this writing, we’re currently being broadcasted in and have an audience in twenty-five different countries. So, I hope you all check it out. It can be found on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Anchor, Overcast, Google Podcast, Breaker, PocketCasts, and RadioPublic. So pretty much anywhere you listen to podcasts. Just search for, “The Silent Bit”.

TCS: Tell us how you discovered live video streaming on Periscope and describe for us your Sunrise Beach Yoga and Meditation?

DM: I’ve been streaming on Periscope for about six months. I started after moving to close to the beach a year and a half ago. I wanted to create the daily habit for myself of yoga and meditation at sunrise at the beach, a desire that come to me during my first yoga teacher training many years before. I started going to the beach every morning and it was so beautiful and t was so inspiring that I felt that I had to share. So, over a year ago I started posting photos to my Instagram account with inspirational sayings. While on the beach one morning I ran into a friend who told me about periscope. So, I began. That’s how things happen right, it’s about just showing up and just doing it, and you set the intention to help, and hopefully you do. Periscope has propelled me to a higher level. Broadcasting to people from all over the world suddenly gaining well over 20,000 followers and still growing.


TCS: Describe for us in greater detail the many benefits of some of the more common yoga postures including the following:

DM: Here are some of the more common yoga postures and their specific benefits:

  • Alternate Nostril Breathing – We practice alternate nostril breathing to clear energy pathways. When the left side, which is the feminine side, is clear it brings us more peace and serenity. When the right side, the masculine side is clear it gives us more energy. So when we practice flowing back and forth alternating the nostrils, we balance and get that perfect blend of strength and peace.
  • Child’s Pose – A relaxing posture that is great for digestion. The forward flexion massages the abdominal organs and helps release muscular tension along spine into the hips. It’s a great time to take a moment to honor yourself, honor your body, and your time on the mat.
  • Downward Dog – Strengthens and stretches the legs, arms, and shoulders. Creates balance, integration, and grounding of the whole body. Helps to calm the nervous system.
  • Gratitude Meditation Meditation – Is meant free our awareness from identifying with our thoughts and what we’re sensing. When we practice gratitude meditation or any meditation where we are concentrating on one thing, be it gratitude, our breath, or a mantra, it’s the first step in learning to have awareness in every moment but not to cling to our thoughts that keep popping into our heads. Aware that they are there but then letting go, as we focus our attention on one thing. Meditating on gratitude specifically allows us to shift our thought to all that is good and working. We shift our thoughts because our thoughts become words, and our words become actions, and our actions become our present reality. We want to live in a world where we have more things to be thankful for, so this where we need to begin.
  • Lotus Pose Increases – Flexibility in the hips, legs, knees, ankles and feet. It strengthens the core and helps to develop good posture.
  • Mountain Pose – Teaches us the basic alignment for all poses. You are grounded, and you pause here to witness your conscious thoughts with detachment.
  • Plank – Strengthens your overall body especially your core.
  • Tree – Strengthens the legs and your core for balance.
  • Warrior – Helps to increase flexibility in the hips and shoulders, strengthens the core. In fact, all muscles are engaged as they are in every pose, but they’re softened after engagement. We want a little bit of movement in a lot of places. We want all muscles involved and working. So here in this warrior pose is a great place to feel the strength of the warrior and the peace of the yogi. Strong but soft.


TCS: Are there any celebrated situations where you feel you’ve made a huge impact in someone’s life?

DM: I can’t really speak to how huge an impact I’ve made on other people although I have had people come up to me, call me and write me in gratitude. But I can speak to the huge impact I’ve made on my own life. I once looked on the outside as a very lucky and successful person. I had money, cars, and many other “things”, but I wasn’t happy, and I tortured myself in my mind with thoughts. That’s what yoga did for me, and it’s why I want to share and teach. I know that happiness starts here, and I want everyone to get to this place of peace.

TCS: What is your personal mantra and how does it sum up your life?

DM: My personal mantra is So Hum.  So Hum is a Hindu mantra, meaning “I am She/He/That” in Sanskrit. I am on the sense that we are connected to all things.

TCS: What is the best way to stay connected to you and your company?

I invite you to stay connected with me on the following social platforms:

TCS: For those suffering from low self-esteem and deep-rooted emotional issues what specifically do you bring to the table to help them discover and/or focus on making improvements to their overall health and well-being?

DM: That’s a big question, and again I’m not a doctor, but I do know what helped me, and I do believe that the practice can help anyone. There are 8 limbs to yoga, and when we have time to dive deeper into these limbs, they all help to get us to that place of peace and self-acceptance. Our minds and bodies are connected so when we practice the totality of yoga. The breathing, the physical practice the mindfulness, the meditation, the observances and restraints. We not only become stronger physically but mentally.

The photography shown in this article was shot by Andrea Blakesberg Photography.

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Since 2012, Frank Iacono has served as the President and CEO of The Creative Spotlight, the ultimate destination for unearthing a wealth of undiscovered musical talent, reading exciting interviews, releasing new music and sharing exclusive videos.

Every good story needs a good storyteller. And, The Creative Spotlight has truly provided a quality forum for revealing those great stories. Through the years, the online publication has featured national and local musicians such as Ash Costello from New Years Day, Williams Honor, Stacey David Blades, Screaming For Silence, Ages Apart, Roxy Petrucci, Peter Beckett, We The Kings, Everything Falls, Rod Black, Derek Crider, Daniel Mason Band, The Rockin’ Krolik, Michelle Leigh, Jessie G., Karen Mansfield and Hillbilly Vegas.

Additionally, The Creative Spotlight has also focused on historic Pennsylvania-based paranormal venues such as the Eastern State Penitentiary, Pennhurst State School and Hospital, Paranormal investigator Kitsie Duncan, Spirit Medium Tiffany Rice, the Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride, well-known actors and actresses, published authors, professional artists, local businesses, consultants, trainers, speakers and more…

Frank earned a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he also received a Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

David Raymond: Emperor of Fun and Games

Written by: Francesco Vincenzo Iacono

Moving directly from a college student at the University of Delaware to big furry green creature with a pot belly and a long snout, Raymond served as the original Phillie Phanatic for more than 16 years. Over his career in the suit, David’s performance as the Phanatic carried the Philadelphia Phillies to a World Series victory in 1980 and unimagined levels of popularity. He helped to spawn a revolution in the mascot industry.

Leveraging the unique lessons, David learned from the inside out, he made a seamless transition to the world of character branding and mascot training. Since starting Raymond Entertainment twenty years ago, David has overseen the creation and rehabilitation of hundreds of mascots and the brands that support them.

Raymond Entertainment has developed a global reputation of excellence in quality, creativity, and customer service. His clients range from small to large – literally. He has helped various organizations such as the minor-league Albuquerque Isotopes create Orbit, the Space Dog. He assisted the National Hockey League’s (NHL) Dallas Stars with Victor E. Green (the Stars’ main color is green). The Toledo Mud Hens, another minor-league baseball team, he created Muddy and Muddonna. Built Burnie for the National Basketball Association‘s (NBA) Miami Heat. Additionally, he assisted the Philadelphia Flyers of the NHL bring Gritty to life in Philadelphia.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Raymond, The Emperor of Fun and Games, and asking him a few questions about his time as the original Phillie Phanatic, his portrayal of the popular Phillies mascot, his involvement in founding the Mascot Hall of Fame, and his work with the Flyers in creating Gritty.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: How did you land the internship with the Philadelphia Phillies front office and how did it evolve into portraying the original Phillie Phanatic?

David Raymond: In 1976, when I was a student at the University of Delaware (UD) studying to be a teacher and a coach, my father, legendary UD football coach Harold R. “Tubby” Raymond, was very close with the Carpenter family who at the time owned the Philadelphia Phillies and he helped me secure an internship. During my practicum, I worked for the organization for two summers and established some great friendships with the front office family.

In 1978, they asked me if I could stay for all of the games. If I committed to do that, then my internship would be extended! That sounded exciting to me, so I agreed even though I wasn’t clear as to what they expected me to do during those games. I first saw a drawing of the Phillie Phanatic in late winter of 1978. From there, I was hooked and loved the prospect of performing as a large, furry, green Muppet!

TCS: Take us back to April 25, 1978, and describe for us your debut as the Phillie Phanatic at Veterans Stadium in a game against the Chicago Cubs?

DR: The original Phillie Phanatic costume arrived at the ballpark on April 25, 1978, which meant that I only had 2 hours prior to game time to try it on. Thankfully, it fit great and looked awesome. The first Phillies player to see it was second baseman Tony Taylor, who couldn’t stop laughing. Based on Tony’s reaction I knew we were on the right track, but I had some reservations especially since my boss never provided any specific directions.

So, I went to the office of Bill Giles, then team President, and asked him what he wanted me to do, and he simply told me to go out and have fun! I remember distinctly, as I ran out of his office he yelled, “G rated Fun David…G rated”! On that historic night, my big discovery was that when I fell the crowd would laugh, so I decided that I had to have the Phanatic fall down…a lot! Most of the Phillies front office did not believe that the Phanatic was going to work so it was much to everyone’s surprise that not only did the Phillies fans like the Phanatic…they loved him!

TCS: Who created the interaction between the Phanatic and the crowd, players, managers, coaches, announcers, and umpires?

DR: That was really up to my discretion, and I started that interaction because I wanted the acceptance of the players even more than the fans. It really was the most fun that I had as the Phanatic and fans today still ask me about it. I loved imitating their batting styles just like I did when I was a kid. When I was imitating a visiting player, I always included an irreverent edge to the portrayal.

When I did a Phillies’ player, I was always respectful. The visiting players loved it so much they would bring me information about specific teammates that I would have not known otherwise that made my imitations more “personal”. When that information was shared to other teams’ players it just continued to egg me on. It just got better and better.


TCS: Tell us why Los Angeles Dodgers’ manager Tommy Lasorda once assaulted the Phanatic during a nationally televised game?

DR: That was a product of a relationship started between Tommy, the Phanatic, and I during a tour of Japan in 1980 with the National League/American League all-star teams. The Phanatic was chosen to be the honorary mascot for Major League Baseball (MLB) on that trip. The Japanese fans loved the interplay between the Phanatic and Tommy, so I continued to imitate Tommy that following year back in the states.


Tommy seemed to love playing along but at some point, he took umbrage and it came to a head late in 1982 or 1983 with the famous battle in front of the Dodgers’ dugout at the Vet. We became friends again later, but it wasn’t too friendly for the next few years. I loved to get him angry and so did the Dodger players especially second baseman Steve Sax.

TCS: Back then, how many people portrayed the Phillie Phanatic?

DR: In the beginning, I was the only performer who portrayed the Phanatic, but we also had the help of Frank Sullivan’s two sons Brian and John. I was very friendly with Frank, the then Director of Promotions, and his family. I truly believe that I wouldn’t have survived without their help because we were inundated with Phanatic appearance requests.


Since I was very protective of the Phanatic’s personality and reputation, I made every attempt to attend as many of those appearances as possible. It is a protection that is still active today. Over the years, we have had at least two backup performers and some of those performers have been doing that type of work for over 20 years.

TCS: How did the Phanatic character evolve over the years?

DR: Most of this was viral in its growth. I continued to do what Bill told me to…have fun and that direction couldn’t have been more helpful in its simplicity. From that direction and the Phillies stewardship, the character evolved, and the fans grew to know him and love him. The actual costume changed over the years to make it appear more cartoon-like and durable. I learned a great deal about sewing, costume care and repair. I helped the company in New York that created the Phanatic with new durable construction materials based on my knowledge of football jersey material. It certainly was an evolution for the Phanatic.

Dave Raymond - The Original Phillies Phanatic

Photo by: Charles Fox – Philadelphia Inquirer

So many fans kept asking the Phanatic what and who he was as well as where he came from, so I invented his background story. The Phanatic is from the Galapagos Islands. He was a Darwin Experiment that went wrong! So strange, in fact, that he wasn’t even accepted there so he went out in search of acceptance and found it in the City of Brotherly Love!

TCS: What was both the best and worst part of portraying the Phanatic?

DR: The best part was receiving the unbridled support and love from the Philadelphia Phillies fans and of course being along for the ride as the Phanatic did so much to help “at risk” kids and adults throughout the years.

I guess the worst part was having to take so many showers. Maybe sometimes 3 or 4 a day! The heat made the work difficult, but it also provided the best fitness routine you could ever hope for.

TCS: What is your favorite memory of Veteran’s Stadium? And, who were among your favorite players, managers, umpires, and announcers to perform with?

DR: My favorite memory of Veterans Stadium was the preseason promotion where the Phanatic camped out in a tent on the roof of the Vet. The Phanatic was so excited about the start of the season that he decided he would go up as high as possible to maybe catch a glimpse of the Phillies playing the Mets in New York! That was a wild time!

My Top 5 Players were:

  • Tug McGraw
  • Joe Sambito
  • Dave Parker
  • Willie Stargel
  • The entire Cubs team during the 80’s

My Top 5 Managers were:

  • Dallas Green
  • Tommy Lasorda
  • Jim Leyland
  • Joe Torre
  • Earl Weaver

My Top 5 Umpires were:

  • Eric Greg
  • Doug Harvey (God)
  • Lee Weyer
  • Dutch Rennert

My Top 5 Announcers were:

  • Harry Kalas
  • Richie Ashburn
  • Harry Caray
  • Vin Skully
  • Tim McCarver

TCS: How did the Phanatic’s mother Phoebe and his cousin Phred evolve?

DR: The Phanatic’s mother was just the maturing of the Phanatic’s back story. In the beginning there wasn’t any written back story for the Phanatic until we created one in late 1978. As I mentioned earlier, we decided he was that Darwin Experiment that had gone bad. The Phanatic’s family grew out of that back story and over the years they were introduced.

TCS: Tell us how special it was for you to play the Phanatic for sixteen years, from 1978 to 1993?

DR: Simply put, and not to sound trite, but it was a dream come true for a Philadelphia sports fan. I will never be able to repay the Philadelphia Phillies organization for all that they did for me.

TCS: Did you help the Phillies find Tom Burgoyne, the next Phillie Phanatic, and did you provide him with any insight or training?

DR: Tom Burgoyne is probably the most creative person that I have had the pleasure of knowing. He continues to be a close friend and a business partner of mine. We ran auditions in the late 80s to find a great back up performer for the Phanatic. Tom is from the Philly area and his whole family are diehard Philadelphia sports fans. His audition was hysterical both in and out of the costume. He was and easy choice over the other candidates that day. Over the next few years, he inspired so much creativity in all of us that made the Phanatic grow in popularity. He continues to grow the Phanatic’s brand today and is every bit of the reason that the Phanatic is such a success as my input was. When the decision was made for him to succeed me as the “Phanatic’s Best Friend” we talked about how best to make that transition, but he really didn’t need any training! The Phanatic will always be the Phanatic no matter who is his Best Friend!

TCS: In 2005, you founded the Mascot Hall of Fame so how special was it to have the Phanatic inducted as the charter member?

DR: I certainly cannot take credit for the idea of creating and operating the Mascot Hall of Fame. It was the brainchild of my most loyal employee and now partner Chris Bruce. He was our performer for Reggy the Purple Party Dude and is exceptionally talented and creative. He came to me after the sausages in Milwaukee were attacked by Randle Simon and suggested that we have as many costume characters as we could get a hold of to march on Philadelphia for the announcement of a Mascot Bill of Rights! Tongue and cheek as it was it also carried some weight and due to all the national exposure we received it was natural for us to form the Mascot Hall of Fame the following year.

TCS: What is David Raymond doing these days?

DR: I am the owner of two business. The Raymond Entertainment Group (REG) and The Fun Department. REG designs, creates, and develops character branding programs for sports teams, colleges and universities, and corporations. The Fun Department goes into the corporate world and entertains employees for moral, retention, and productively. Simply put we sell fun. Serious fun that can make you more successful in business and in life!

TCS: Tell us about the reaction that Ed Snider, former Chairman of Comcast Spectacor a Philadelphia-based sports and entertainment company that owns the Flyers, had about the creation of a mascot?

DR: Ed, who died in April 2016, was an old-school kind of guy. There was no place for furry creatures in the man-to-man battles he and the team so regularly fought. He didn’t want this at all.

I used to ride my four-wheeler over to the old Spectrum for Sixers playoff games and one night I decided to go over for a Flyers game. The next morning the Flyers called my bosses. They said, “Don’t ever do that again. We don’t want him anywhere near us.”

TCS: Can you advise what research and development you employed to create Gritty?

DR: In terms of research and development, we followed a tried-and-true process for success. We focused on organizational commitment, generated an authentic back story (see Gritty’s Lore below), created a unique and identifiable design and featured an integrated marketing approach.


Photo by: Kate Frese– Photojournalist

Gritty’s Lore…

“His father was a “bully,” so naturally he has some of those tendencies. Talented but feisty, a fierce competitor, known for his agility given his size. He’s loyal but mischievous; the ultimate Flyers fan who loves the orange and black, but is unwelcoming to anyone who opposes his team. Legend has it he earned the name “Gritty” for possessing an attitude so similar to the team he follows.

He claims that he’s been around for a lot longer than we know it. The recent construction at the Wells Fargo Center disturbed his secret hideout forcing him to show his face publicly for the first time. He has some oddities that are both humorous and strange. A number of times he’s been caught eating snow straight from the Zamboni machine, and unbeknown to most, his love of hot dogs has been inflating the Flyers Dollar Dog Night consumption totals for years.

That being said, there’s no denying that he’s one of our own.”

TCS: Did you have any advice for the Flyers organization about Gritty?

DR: Yes, I started off by saying, “You guys know that it’s all going to be negative when you roll him out, right? You could have the incarnation of the Phanatic and you’re going to get slammed.” Right away I knew we were in great shape because they went, “Yep, we know it. We’re prepared for it. We can’t wait for it.”

TCS: In your opinion, what makes for perfect fun and games?

DR: That is simple. You just have to value fun for what it is…FUN! Once you recognize that smiling is better for you then frowning you are already half the way there!

About Francesco Vincenzo Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Since 2012, Francesco Vincenzo Iacono has served as the President and CEO of The Creative Spotlight, the ultimate destination for unearthing a wealth of undiscovered musical talent, reading exciting interviews, releasing new music and sharing exclusive videos.

Every good story needs a good storyteller. And, The Creative Spotlight has truly provided a quality forum for revealing those great stories. Through the years, the online publication has featured national and local musicians such as Ash Costello from New Years Day, Williams Honor, Stacey David Blades, Screaming For Silence, Ages Apart, Roxy Petrucci, Peter Beckett, We The Kings, Everything Falls, Rod Black, Derek Crider, Daniel Mason Band, The Rockin’ Krolik, Michelle Leigh, Jessie G., Karen Mansfield and Hillbilly Vegas.

Additionally, The Creative Spotlight has also focused on historic Pennsylvania-based paranormal venues such as the Eastern State Penitentiary, Pennhurst State School and Hospital, Paranormal investigator Kitsie Duncan, Spirit Medium Tiffany Rice, the Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride, well-known actors and actresses, published authors, professional artists, local businesses, consultants, trainers, speakers and more…

Francesco earned a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he also received a Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Alexandra Benas – Professional Pastry Chef

Written by: Francesco Vincenzo Iacono

Alexandra Benas - Professional Pastry Chef

The Cake Boutique, a female-owned and operated gourmet custom cake bakery, located in the heart of Mullica Hill, New Jersey was the dream of Pastry Chef Alexandra Benas. Thanks to the love and support of family and friends, her vision of unique confections of custom cakes and cupcakes became a reality,

The skills of classically trained Chef Alexandra are evident in each of the Boutique’s tempting treats. She works closely with clients in crafting whimsical, one-of-a-kind cakes that creatively reflect the occasion, birthday, shower, wedding, or any special event.

Chef Alexandra incorporates the finest and freshest ingredients in her confections. Selections of cupcakes are baked daily, hand frosted with The Cake Boutique’s signature frosting, and garnished, resulting in an elegant appearance and exquisite taste. The seasonal menu varies often, inviting frequent visits to The Cake Boutique.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, we highlight The Cake Boutique and its owner Alexandra Benas. During our interview, we discussed her business influences and inspirations, her career as a professional pastry chef, her experience at the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as well as her short and long-term goals.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: At what age did you first realize that you wanted to be a professional pastry chef and whom or what would you say inspired you?

Alexandra Benas: In college, I studied psychology and following graduation I began a teaching career. After one year, I realized that teaching was not the right fit for me. I pondered with the idea of either going back for my master’s degree in psychology or attending culinary school. Ultimately, culinary school won.

With my family in the diner business, my decision to go to culinary school came with the hope that I would be able to add to our overall business. Approximately, 2 years after graduating from culinary school, I believe I was about 26-years-old; it was my parents who encouraged me to open The Cake Boutique, and the rest is pretty much history.

Alexandra Benas The Cake Boutique

In terms of whom or what inspired me…. that’s easy, it was my parents. My father has dedicated his life to being in the diner business. The things I’ve learned from him over the years are extraordinary, and I wouldn’t be the businesswoman or boss that I am today without his guidance and wisdom. My mom is one of the most artistic people I know, she inspires and challenges me to be the absolute best and most innovative artist I can be. Without them I wouldn’t be where I am today.

The Cake Boutique

TCS: For those who are not too familiar with The Cake Boutique, Mullica Hill’s first gourmet custom cake bakery, please share with us some background details and tell us about how you selected Harrison Township in Gloucester County, New Jersey as the location?

AB: The selection of Mullica Hill in Gloucester County NJ for my bakery was an easy choice. I have lived in the area for over 30 years, so it’s a place I’ve known pretty much my entire life. As a native, I knew the specific types of businesses we were missing, and a gourmet custom cake bakery was one of them.

Over the years, my family had slowly acquired properties around our existing Harrison House Diner. It was one of those properties that my dad brought me to look at one day that would eventually become the future home of The Cake Boutique. On that day, it was just him and I and we came to this old run-down house. Just to give you an idea, the house to date is over 100 years old. So, he brings me to this house we walk inside and I’m looking around, not quite sure why he had brought me, but he knew what he was doing. We stood in the main part of the house, and he simply just said to me, “you really can’t picture opening a bakery here?”. And it was in that exact moment that everything came to life for me, it was in that moment that yes, I could see a bakery in that very spot. It was in that moment that I knew what wall I wanted to be our accent wall (which still has our iconic pink and magenta damask wallpaper). Everything about the bakery started on that day in that moment. With the building being over 100-years-old, we had a lot of remodeling to do. The construction and remolding process took just about 2 years to complete before we were able to open.

TCS: From an educational and professional perspective, how did the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania help shape your overall culinary and hospitality experience?

AB: Growing up in the restaurant business, I already had a great foundation in the culinary and hospitality world. Working from a young age at our family’s diner gave me skills that most certainly cannot be taught in school. But I will say, culinary school gave me the basics of the pastry world. The skills I’ve acquired since then are all from hands-on experience.

TCS: Describe for us your specific baking style and how it makes you and The Cake Boutique unique?

AB: My baking style comes from a phrase many people often say, “keep it simple stupid.” While I like to occasionally experiment with some out of the box ideas (i.e., a Cheetos or a pink champagne cupcake), the basis and core of my business come from the most delicious basic flavor combinations. I firmly believe that making a good product comes from using the highest quality ingredients, for me that’s something I can never and will never change.

TCS: With various food allergies and dietary restrictions issues on the rise, can you describe for us the ingredients you use in the bakery, its significance and importance as well as the sourcing of those ingredients?

AB: One of the most important things that I try to convey to people is that while we offer some allergen free products (i.e., gluten free, nut free, and dairy free to name a few) our facility is not totally free of those ingredients. While making these types of allergen free products, we do our absolute best in keeping them separated, but it’s very important to note those allergens are still in the building. We make sure to tell anyone who is inquiring about these types of products, and it is up to the consumer on whether our products are right for them.

TCS: Describe what types of masterpieces The Cake Boutique creates for its customer’s and their auspicious events?

AB: As a custom bakery, The Cake Boutique works closely with our clients in creating whimsical, one-of-a-kind cakes that creatively reflect their special occasion. Below, please find some samples of our creativity:

Kids Cakes from The Cake Boutique

Fancy Cakes from The Cake Boutique

Shower Cakes from The Cake Boutique

Religious Cakes from The Cake Boutique

Wedding Cakes from The Cake Boutique

TCS: For families that want to celebrate their child’s birthday with a special party at The Cake Boutique, please describe for us what could be included in their exciting day of fun?

AB: Birthday parties held here at The Cake Boutique are so super fun! We hold them in the kitchen here at the bakery, which is why they can only be held on Sundays (the bakery must be closed when we host parties). The children not only get to help decorate the birthday child’s birthday cake, but each get a 4” cake to completely decorate themselves. It is so fun to see how much creativity children of all ages have in creating their cakes. In many cases so many of the parents are so shocked to see how well the cakes turned out. The kids get some cake decorating lessons from the staff as well as help with their designs if they need it. At the end of the party the original cake that the children all decorated is used for singing happy birthday and for everyone to enjoy!

TCS: What are your most favorite and least favorite ingredients to work with and why?

AB: Since my goal is making delicious products, my favorite ingredient is our vanilla extract. We use a very specific type of vanilla extract that while it is incredibly expensive its flavor is unmatched to anything I have ever taste.

What I really don’t like using and pretty much avoid at all costs (except when making dairy free or vegan products) is shortening. Shortening has its benefits when baking but I prefer to use butter, and other dairy products whenever possible, I think it makes for a much tastier product.

The Cake Boutique Showroom

TCS: What does a typical day, a week and month look like for someone working as a professional pastry chef?

AB: Owning and working in a small business every month, day, even hour is different and challenging. Each day every person working in this bakery has different responsibilities that depending on the day can vary. During the week we have a system that we typically follow, now depending on the workload that week that system can change. Every week we are challenged to create cakes and desserts for different types of events, no two weeks are ever the same. We must adapt to adding last minute orders (even at times when you don’t think you have the time to complete the orders you already have). Our system and daily challenges also change depending on the season. Holiday times are heavy in pies, cookies, and cute holiday inspired cupcakes. While springtime it’s mostly religious and graduation cakes, making a plethora of cross cakes and graduation hats. It’s always important to remember that it doesn’t matter what time of year it is, it’s always someone’s birthday. Birthday cakes are never out of season.

TCS: What do you find is the most rewarding and challenging about running your own business?

AB: What’s most rewarding is an easy answer. There’s nothing more satisfying than creating works of art for people and witnessing their reactions when they see their design come to life. When someone gives us creative freedom and we get to create something beyond what they could imagine, that is the most fulfilling part of the job. Not to say that it doesn’t come with challenges, as you simply can’t please everyone in this creative industry.

TCS: How do you stay up to date on the latest and greatest industry and customer-specific trends?

AB: We are in the age of social media/technology and let me tell you it’s a fantastic way to stay in touch with your customers and keep up with what is trending. Sometimes our customers come to us with trends that they want us to make or recreate, other times we create the trend! In a lot of ways, today social media can be a distraction or hindrance in one’s day-to-day life, but for us it’s a total inspiration and a resource to help keep us competitive in the creative market.

The Cake Boutique-Cakes

TCS: What advice do you have for anyone considering a career as a professional pastry chef? What are your top three tips for success as a pastry chef?

AB: I answer this question all the time. And my answer is always the same, have a backup plan. Being a pastry chef, as I said before can be incredibly rewarding, but what most don’t understand is that it’s not all “wedding cakes and sunshine”. I think a lot of people see shows on tv that make this industry look easier than it is. Working in a bakery or in a restaurant as a pastry chef is not easy on a day to day basis. I think it’s always important for anyone who is considering a career in this field to do an internship in a bakery to see what the job entails. Getting that time as an intern in this field can be beneficial in deciding whether to spend the money on an education, because what’s worse than student loans for a career you’re not pursuing (again something I’ve seen very often in this field).

TCS: What keeps you both motivated and inspired? And, where do you see yourself and The Cake Boutique in the short and long-term?

AB: I am not going to lie, some days are tough. But having wonderful employees who work so hard every day is something that inspires me. Also, the customers inspire me to be better and try harder and to create more and more delicious and decadent creations.

I see The Cake Boutique continuing to be a staple in our community, and I hope to branch even further into the tri-state area and beyond. As for myself, I will continue to challenge myself to be more inspired, more creative, and the best business owner I can possibly be.

Contact The Cake Boutique

To stay connected, please join us on the following:

About Francesco Vincenzo Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Since 2012, Francesco Vincenzo Iacono has served as the President and CEO of The Creative Spotlight, the ultimate destination for unearthing a wealth of undiscovered musical talent, reading exciting interviews, releasing new music and sharing exclusive videos.

Every good story needs a good storyteller. And, The Creative Spotlight has truly provided a quality forum for revealing those great stories. Through the years, the online publication has featured national and local musicians such as Ash Costello from New Years Day, Williams Honor, Stacey David Blades, Screaming For Silence, Ages Apart, Roxy Petrucci, Peter Beckett, We The Kings, Everything Falls, Rod Black, Derek Crider, Daniel Mason Band, The Rockin’ Krolik, Michelle Leigh, Jessie G., Karen Mansfield and Hillbilly Vegas.

Additionally, The Creative Spotlight has also focused on historic Pennsylvania-based paranormal venues such as the Eastern State Penitentiary, Pennhurst State School and Hospital, Paranormal investigator Kitsie Duncan, Spirit Medium Tiffany Rice, the Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride, well-known actors and actresses, published authors, professional artists, local businesses, consultants, trainers, speakers and more…

Francesco earned a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he also received a Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Jim Werner: Pennhurst School and State Hospital

Written by: Frank Iacono

In 1903, the Pennsylvania Legislature authorized the creation of the Pennhurst State School and Hospital, originally known as the Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic. The institution, which officially opened its doors on November 23, 1908, was the second such state-operated facility and served the mentally and physically disabled individuals of Southeastern PA.

From the outset, the Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution was overcrowded. Designed for epileptics and persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, there was tremendous pressure to admit many different persons whom society, steeped in the eugenics movement, wanted removed from the gene pool, including immigrants, orphans, criminals, etc.

Unfortunately, cruel punishments were common at the facility. Overworked staff responded to unruly patients by drugging them into submission or chaining them to their beds. Other residents were isolated for such long periods of time that they regressed and lost their will to speak, fight or even to live.

In 1968, Philadelphia CBS correspondent Bill Baldini produced an exposé on the institution entitled “Suffer the Little Children” which uncovered the atrocities of the facility and created a sympathetic public sediment. His exposure led to a massive lawsuit. In 1987, the facility officially closed its doors and the network of buildings was neglected and left to the tortured, sad spirits.

In 2010, to the shock and dismay of many – especially those in the mental and physical disabilities community – Pennhurst owners worked with Randy Bates of The Bates Motel Halloween attraction located in Glenn Mills, PA to turn Pennhurst’s historic lower campus into a commercial Halloween “haunted” attraction.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jim Werner, the Operations Manager of Pennhurst Asylum, and asked him about the history, the eugenics movement, the five-part news report, the annual haunted attraction and “good to know” facts concerning the Pennhurst State School and Hospital.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: When the Pennhurst School and State Hospital opened its doors on November 23, 1908, how did the Eugenics movement influence the purpose of the institution for the feeble minded and epileptic and what problems ensued?

Jim Werner: At the time, when the Pennhurst School and State Hospital opened its doors in 1908 in Spring City, Pennsylvania, people with special needs were perceived as a subclass very similar to how African Americans were regarded. Pennhurst was part of a national trend to segregate individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities from mainstream society. To that extent, I feel that the Eugenics movement was a flawed science in that it truly discouraged aiding the sick and poor. In the prior century, the ongoing idea was that by pulling those with special needs out of society it both protected society and also gave them a place to live safely. We know that without knowledge there can’t be change and as society was never exposed to the disabled, they were seen as an almost non-existent and unknown population.

TCS: Can you provide us with at least three historical facts about the Pennhurst State School and Hospital that the average person wouldn’t know?

JW: Three “Good to Know” facts about the Pennhurst School and State Hospital, include:

  • When the facility opened in 1908, the administration building had not yet been completed so the Philadelphia building was actually used as the original Admin building.
  • There was a time when train cars could travel all the way up from the main tracks to the middle of the lower campus in the area of the Dietary building
  • The Pennhurst School and State Hospital was never actually an asylum.

TCS: How many buildings encompassed the Pennhurst facility and what were the buildings used for?

JW: At its height, the Pennhurst School and State Hospital encompassed more than 30 buildings. The earliest of which, designed by Phillip H. Johnson, were constructed of red brick, terra cotta and granite trimmings and are connected by a series of underground tunnels that stretch for miles. Pennhurst was a self-sufficient community as its 1,400-acre site contained a firehouse, general store, barbershop, greenhouse, hospital with a morgue, auditorium, farm, power plant, and even a graveyard.

TCS: When Pennhurst was built how many patients was it initially built to accommodate and how many occupants did it have at its fullest capacity? Additionally, what was the ratio of doctors and nurses or employees to patients?

JW: The Pennhurst facility was initially designed to house around 500 patients, by 1912 the institution was almost immediately overpopulated. Once in, every patient was given a classification of mental prowess, either as an “imbecile” or “insane” and physically as either “epileptic” or “healthy.” Many of the people that were placed in the School and State Hospital should not have been. In 1946, there were only seven physicians serving over 2,000 patients with no room for the 1,000 still on the waiting list for admission. By the mid-1960s, the facility, housed 2,791 people, most of them children, which was about 900 more than the administration thought the buildings could comfortably accommodate. The staff was extremely overwhelmed and unable to properly care for the patients.

TCS: In your opinion, do you feel that Pennhurst predominantly assisted in providing a positive learning experience for the patients or do you feel its programs and resources caused more harm than good?

JW: For some of the patients, the answer is “yes” and for others the answer is “no”. The high functioning patients could work and live a pretty full life on site without the persecution of the general public raining down on them. However, with a budget shortfall and staffing issues the low functioning patients were not cared for in a manner that would help to improve their condition. By the mid-1960s, only 200 of the residents were in any kind of art, education, or recreation programs.

TCS: In 1968, Bill Baldini, a local CBS Philadelphia newsman, opened the eyes to the horrors of Pennhurst when he exposed it during a five-part series entitled Suffer the Little Children. How did this expose change the daily operations of Pennhurst and Pennsylvania laws concerning the treatment of the mentally disabled?

JW: Bill Baldini, then a fledgling TV reporter, heard about the Pennhurst School and State Hospital facility and went there one day to visit and was immediately appalled at the conditions. Baldini has said that when he left that day, he cried the entire way home in his car. His five-part exposé outraged the public and truly painted a picture of neglect and abuse in the Chester County, PA institution. Many of the regular news viewers found it very difficult to stomach the coverage. This state-funded school and hospital center was at the heart of the human rights movement that revolutionized this country’s approach to healthcare for the mentally and physically handicapped. This facility was one of the most striking examples of the maltreatment that was characteristic of such institutions––at one point, papers labeled it “The Shame of the Pennsylvania”.

TCS: Who and how many are buried in the Pennhurst Memorial Cemetery? Can you tell us if these were patients of the hospital and why didn’t family members come to claim their bodies?

JW: The Pennhurst Memorial Cemetery is located on the grounds of the Pennhurst State School and Hospital. From a time period between 1918 and 1933 there were 40 former residents are buried. Unfortunately, I cannot answer why they didn’t claim their bodies with anything other than just speculation.

TCS: Can you describe for us some of the coverage that the Pennhurst School and State Hospital has received especially on shows like Ghost Finders, Syfy’s Ghost Hunter and the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and Paranormal Challenge?

JW: The Pennhurst School and State Hospital site has long been regarded as a paranormal hotspot by some of the shows within that genre and they draw specifically on that reputation.

On Ghost Finders (Season 4, Episode 10 and Season 4, Episode 9 Pennhurst), join team members Rob, Heather and Amber as they capture some incredible evidence caught on camera.

On Ghost Adventures (Season 3, Episode 1), Zak Bagans, Nick Groff, Aaron Goodwin travel to Pennhurst State School and Hospital in Pennsylvania, which was an institution for both the mentally and physically disabled. Pennhurst State closed in 1987 after several allegations of abuse, including dehumanization.

On Ghost Hunters Live: Pennhurst State (Season 7, Episode 21), the Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) team and some special guests spend six hours at Pennhurst State School and Hospital, with live interactive features so that the viewing audience can join in the chase.

On Paranormal Challenge (Season 1, Episode 3), creator and host Zak Bagans invites two teams of amateur ghost hunters to spend the night locked down inside haunted hotspots. During the night, the teams will put their paranormal skills to the test by conducting a ghost investigation with high-tech gear and their own knowledge. The teams will then present their findings to Bagans and a panel of three paranormal experts who judge the teams on teamwork, use of technology and evidence collected during the lockdown.

In this episode, the New Jersey Ghost Hunters Society take a more methodical approach to investigating the looming spirits of Pennhurst State School, while the rough-and-tumble Quest Paranormal Society employ an in-your-face plan of attack.

TCS: While working at Pennhurst, have you personally experienced any paranormal encounters such as shadows, unexplained lights or apparitions? If so, can you please describe where and what happened specifically?

JW: Fortunately, or unfortunately, while I’ve worked at Pennhurst School and State Hospital I have not personally experienced any paranormal encounters.

TCS: In October of 2010, Pennhurst owners worked with Randy Bates of the Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride attraction in Glen Mills, PA was to turn Pennhurst historic lower campus into a commercial Halloween “haunted” attraction. With that, can you share what visitors to the annual event will experience during their trip to the Pennhurst Haunted Asylum?

JW: Visitors to the annual event can enjoy four terrifying attractions featuring the Pennhurst Asylum, The Dungeon of Lost Souls, Containment and Mayflower After Dark.

Pennhurst Asylum

The Pennhurst Asylum is a “Hospital” themed walk through attraction featuring many items and artifacts that are salvaged from the original State School. Located on the upper floors of the old Administration building, which dates to 1908, this attraction features fine detail and realism through a combination of high tech animatronics, digital sound and highly trained actors.

The Dungeon of Lost Souls

Enter the world of the underground as your soul is led down the steps of the past to go back in time to a labyrinth of dilapidated cells, never ending halls, and be forced to confront a series of human experiments that have gone horribly and deadly wrong. This experience includes CGI special effects, illusions, attention to detail and ghosts that have never left the halls.

Containment (Tunnels) New* 2017!

Containment is a new attraction for 2017 that takes you through a 1,200-foot-long gauntlet underneath the Pennhurst complex. Stationed as a government facility hidden underground for decades, you will bear witness to patients being experimented on in the most inhumane ways possible. Lucky for you, this research facility is still accepting patients! The brand-new sets and scares of this attraction are guaranteed to produce horrifying screams and nightmares to come.

Mayflower After Dark

The final attraction, Mayflower After Dark, is a self-guided tour of the Mayflower Building, reportedly the most ghostly active of all the locations on the campus. It’s featured on Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters. No actors or props, visitors are sent at their own risk to wander through the dormitory, left caught in the sands of time just as it was 26 years ago. Search for spirits on your own, or let them find you first. Included is a museum of Pennhurst State School artifacts with real former employees taking you back in time to what life was really like for the patients.

Contact or Visit Pennhurst

Pennhurst School and State Hospital
Church Street and Bridge Road
Spring City, PA 19475
Phone: 484-886-6080
Get Directions

TCS: What can you tell us about the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance?

JW: The Mission of the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance is to promote an understanding of the struggle for dignity and full civil rights for persons with disabilities, using the little-known history at Pennhurst. By sharing this tragic story as well as its landmark victories, they seek to educate citizens in local, national and international communities, to assure that we never go back.

The Vision of the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance is to be part of an effort to create a world-class museum to honor and memorialize the ongoing civil and human rights struggle of Americans with disabilities at a location of national significance.

TCS: Where do you see the Pennhurst property in the next 20 years?

JW: We very much hope that the essential buildings located on the Pennhurst site can be economically restored. From a historical perspective, we plan to have a museum or other venue on the property to recognize the site’s vast history and display artifacts. Additionally, our goal is to continue to operate and expand the Halloween haunted house attractions on a year-to-year basis.

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Since 2012, Frank Iacono has served as the President and CEO of The Creative Spotlight, the ultimate destination for unearthing a wealth of undiscovered musical talent, reading exciting interviews, releasing new music and sharing exclusive videos.

Every good story needs a good storyteller. And, The Creative Spotlight has truly provided a quality forum for revealing those great stories. Through the years, the online publication has featured national and local musicians such as Screaming For Silence, Ages Apart, Roxy Petrucci, Peter Beckett, We The Kings, Everything Falls, Rod Black, Derek Crider, Daniel Mason Band, Michelle Leigh, Jessie G., Karen Mansfield and Hillbilly Vegas. Additionally, we’ve also focused on historic Pennsylvania-based paranormal venues, well-known actors and actresses, published authors, professional artists, local businesses, consultants, trainers, speakers and more…

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he earned his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Eastern State Penitentiary: America’s Most Historic Prison

Written by: Frank Iacono

Construction of the Eastern State Penitentiary, America’s most historic prison, began on a cherry orchard outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1822. The chosen design created by British-born architect John Haviland was a technological marvel which consisted of seven wings of individual cell blocks radiating from a center hub; this was unlike any other prison design seen before the penitentiary opened in 1829.

Eastern State, at its completion was the most expensive public structure ever built, is considered to be the world’s first true penitentiary. It was initially renowned for its Enlightenment-inspired efforts to reform inmates rather than merely punish them. Eventually, this system was abandoned in favor of solitary confinement and a Death Row block. The once-genteel penitentiary housed, at one time, the most notorious prohibition-era gangster – Al Capone. Capone’s private cell even allowed him to have fine antiques and Oriental carpets.

The prison was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and closed in 1971. It is now considered by several sources to be one of the most haunted places in America. The penitentiary has been featured on the Travel Channel’s Most Haunted Live, Ghost Adventures, and Paranormal Challenge; Fox Television’s World’s Scariest Places; TLC’s America’s Ghost Hunters; and MTV’s FEAR.

Today, Eastern State Penitentiary is open for tours seven days a week, year-round. Visitors can explore the cell blocks and learn about the history of this facility and its relevance. Eastern State offers a daily guided tour with one of their expert tour guides, or visitors can take a self-guided audio tour, “The Voices of Eastern State” Audio Tour, narrated by actor Steve Buscemi.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sean Kelley, Senior Vice President & Director of Interpretation and Amy Hollaman, Associate Director, Events and Operations; Creative Director for Terror Behind the Walls and asked them about the history, the correctional system of incarceration, notorious criminals who were incarcerated, the annual Terror Behind the Walls and “good to know” facts concerning the Eastern State Penitentiary.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: The Eastern State Penitentiary, which was designed by John Haviland and opened its doors on October 25, 1829, was considered the first true penitentiary. Why do you think it received this designation and what made it so controversial?

Sean Kelley: Eastern State is considered the world’s first true penitentiary because of its intent, to instill penitence and true regret in the hearts of its prisoners. Eastern State’s focus was on achieving this penitence through silence, prayer, and labor, all of which took place in the solitude of inmates’ cells. Solitary confinement was a revolutionary concept when compared to prisons at the time, where inmates of all ages and crimes were housed together and physical punishment was the norm. Now, we can look back at the system of isolation that was so prevalent at the beginning of Eastern State’s history and recognize how, although it was supposed to be a solution to prison reform, it truly was harmful for inmates.

Curious how the building has changed over time? Here’s an online tour from 1998.

TCS: For the benefit of those who are not familiar with the Eastern State Penitentiary, can you provide us with at least three “Good to Know” facts?

SK: Three “Good to Know” facts about the Eastern State Penitentiary, include:

  • Eastern State Penitentiary’s system of solitude was seen as a revolutionary concept in prison reform. But what we know now, nearly 200 years later, is that solitary confinement is incredibly damaging for people’s mental health.
  • Architect John Haviland’s wagon wheel design of Eastern State has been copied over 300 times. There is a prison that looks just like Eastern State on every continent except Antarctica.
  • The penitentiary had running water and central heat before the White House!

TCS: Eastern State Penitentiary is touted as America’s Most Historic Prison. Can you perhaps share with us some stories about notorious criminals who were incarcerated there such as bank robber “Slick Willie” Sutton and Al “Scarface” Capone?

SK: One of the most famous bank robbers in American History, “Slick Willie” Sutton spent 11 years at Eastern State Penitentiary. In 1945 Sutton, along with 11 other prisoners, escaped from Eastern State in an inmate-dug tunnel that went almost 100 feet underground. Sutton was recaptured just minutes later. Over the course of his criminal career Sutton is credited with over 50 bank robberies, three successful escapes from prison, and over 30 years served behind bars. Visitors can step into the cell and view the hole from which Sutton and 11 others escaped.

Our visitors also enjoy viewing the cell of Chicago’s most famous mob boss, Al Capone. According to news reports, his time at Eastern State was spent in relative luxury. Reports stated that his cell housed a cabinet radio, oriental rug, and fine furniture. He also had his tonsils removed from the penitentiary operating room in 1929.

Take a 360-degree panorama view of Al Capone’s cell by visiting kuula.co/post/7lL8y.

TCS: Please explain Eastern State’s revolutionary so-called separate philosophy or correctional system of incarceration, dubbed as the Pennsylvania System of Confinement?

SK: The separate system, or Pennsylvania System, was based on the idea that penitence would lead to reform. Through silence, spiritual reflection, and physical labor, criminals were supposed to find this penitence in their hearts and change their ways. The early system was strict. Inmates has no contact with each other, and even interactions with guards was mild. Meals were even passed through a feeding hole, limiting guard/inmate interaction further. When inmates were taken from their cells, a hood was placed over their head to avoid any contact.

TCS: Can you please describe for us what an inmate experienced in the 1800’s under the Pennsylvania System of Confinement?

SK: When Eastern State was designed, its architect had to create solutions to ensure the success of this separate system. Originally, each cellblock and individual cell was designed with similar architecture to a church, with high, arched ceilings and a single skylight. Because each cell was meant for a single inmate, each has its own exercise yard and flushing toilet.

The penitentiary’s most famous architectural aspect is its radial design, with a central surveillance hub and seven cellblock which radiated from it much like a wagon wheel. This was to ensure complete and total surveillance to ensure control. As additional cellblocks were built over time, this idea of surveillance became harder and harder to achieve.

TCS: Can you please describe for us some of the horrible forms of punishment that the inmates encountered when they broke the rules?

SK: Eastern State officials mostly avoided physical punishments, though straightjackets and other restraints were occasionally applied.

In the 1800s, Eastern State’s “silent system,” or “Pennsylvania system,” stood in opposition to the Auburn system of incarceration employed in New York State prisons such as Auburn and Sing Sing. The Auburn system housed prisoners in solitary cells overnight, but grouped them together during the day for silent labor. Auburn administrators used corporal punishment on those who broke prison rules, while Eastern State officials largely avoided such punishments.

On occasion, Eastern State officials placed prisoners who became unruly or violent, and those who repeatedly disturbed the penitentiary’s silence, in restraints such as the “iron gag” and the “composing chair” (also called the “mad chair” or “tranquilizing chair”). One prisoner, Mathias Maccumsey, died after being placed in the iron gag for attempting to communicate with other prisoners.

Another punishment that officials used on occasion in the 1800s was the “shower bath.” A “shower bath” was a punishment used by prison officials in which a prisoner was restrained and doused with water.

Though solitary confinement had been used in the prison’s early years for rehabilitative purposes, by the early 1900s, solitary cells were reserved for those who broke prison rules. Infractions that resulted in solitary confinement included stealing items from the kitchen, fighting, gambling, cursing an officer, and other misconducts.

TCS: Please share with us the specific changes that occurred to the Penitentiary in the 1900’s and how those changes affected the prisoners daily living conditions and interactions with other inmates versus the 1800s?

SK: The separate system that Eastern State was so infamous for had begun to erode early on. By the late 1800s, inmates were issued hoods with— for the first time—eye holes. They would exercise together, in silence and anonymity. A congregate workshop was added to the complex in 1905, eight years before the Pennsylvania System was officially discontinued. With a large number of prisoners in an aging structure, the system of solitary isolation was completely abandoned in 1913.

An issue that faced the wardens of Eastern State, which we still face today, is prison overcrowding. As the penitentiary took in more and more prisoners, the separate system was no longer realistic or achievable. The original seven cellblocks were no longer enough to hold inmates, and by the time the penitentiary closed in 1970, an additional 8 cellblocks had been added. This compromised both the system of isolation and surveillance that was so pivotal in the 1800s.

TCS: By 1965, the Federal Government designated Eastern State Penitentiary as a National Historic Landmark. In 1971, it was closed. Can you describe for us the various proposals the City of Philadelphia had for the property after it purchased it for redevelopment?

SK: Eastern State sat abandoned for about 16 years before it went up for sale in 1987. Developers placed bids ranging from $2.5 million to $3 million. Suggested developments included a condominium complex, a supermarket, restaurants, and a nightclub. The following year, the preservationist group Eastern State Task Force (which would eventually become Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, Inc.) was formed and the first limited group tours of the prison are offered. The rest, as they say, is history.

TCS: Please describe for us what the public can expect to see or encounter during one of the historic public tours?

SK: There is something for everyone at Eastern State. We offer a daily guided tour with one of our expert tour guides, or visitors can take a self-guided audio tour, “The Voices of Eastern State” Audio Tour, narrated by actor Steve Buscemi. Eastern State also features history exhibits and a critically acclaimed series of artist installations. Visitors can enjoy Hands-On History interactive experiences which allow visitors a closer look through short demonstrations with our expert tour guides. Our latest exhibit, Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration, looks at our nation’s skyrocketing incarceration rate and the driving factors behind it. Eastern State sits on nearly 11 acres, so we encourage visitors to walk around and explore everything the museum has to offer!

TCS: When do you start preparing for Terror Behind the Walls and tell us what exactly goes in to the overall preparation process?

Amy Hollaman: Terror Behind the Walls, America’s largest haunted house, is located inside the massive, castle-like walls of Eastern State Penitentiary. This extraordinary theatrical production is consistently ranked among the top haunted attractions in the nation. Preparation takes place year-round, and once the event is up-and-running it takes an elite team of 14 makeup artists almost three hours to prepare the cast of more than 200 performers each evening.

Terror Behind the Walls is the single largest source of revenue for Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, Inc., the 501(c)3 tax-exempt, charitable organization that administers both the daytime prison tour program and the Halloween fundraiser. Since 1991, Terror Behind the Walls has raised more than $5.3 million to fund preservation efforts at this National Historic Landmark.

With the help of Terror Behind the Walls, Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is thriving. Daytime prison tours are available every day, year-round, from 10 am to 5 pm.

TCS: Terror Behind the Walls an annual Haunted House Halloween event, consists of six startling attractions. Can you please describe each of the attractions and tell us what you feel entices visitors from across the country to attend year after year?

AH: Terror Behind the Walls (TBTW) consists of six haunted attractions that create a seamless experience for visitors. All six attractions are included in one admission price. As visitors enter Terror Behind the Walls, they are confronted with a critical decision: should they explore the prison and watch the action, or should they mark themselves to truly interact with the denizens of the cellblocks? Those who opt in for true interactivity may be grabbed, held back, sent into hidden passageways, removed from their group, and even occasionally incorporated into the show. They will deal with the consequences of their decision through six long attractions:

  • Lock Down: The creatures of Lock Down: The Uprising have risen to TBTW from the depths of the darkest universe. They are agile, ruthless, and hungry for flesh. They have no law, no chain of command, no concept of confinement.
  • Machine Shop: Hidden deep inside the cell blocks is a long-forgotten Machine Shop. Evil pervades this space – an evil with one mind but with many bodies.
  • Infirmary: The Infirmary takes the fear of hospitals to a whole new level. Discover the world of prison medical treatment, including shock therapy, hydrotherapy, and other torturous experiments gone wrong.
  • Blood Yard: The carnage sends a clear message: You could be next. Hunt or be hunted!
  • Quarantine 4D: Flat walls appear to have depth, creatures emerge from seemingly nowhere, and some brave visitors will be challenged to face their worst fears.
  • Break Out: Inmates surround you using every way imaginable to escape. Keep an eye out at every corner, as inmates may even be using YOU to aid in their attempt to gain freedom.


Be the first to know about our new attraction – follow us @TerrorAtESP on:

TCS: Can you describe for us the coverage that Eastern State received on Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and Most Haunted Live, Syfy’s Ghost Hunters, MTVs Fear and others?

SK: Many people believe that Eastern State Penitentiary is haunted. As early as the 1940s, officers and inmates reported mysterious visions and eerie experiences in the ancient prison. With the growing interest in paranormal investigations, Eastern State Penitentiary may now be the most carefully studied building in the United States. Approximately 60 paranormal teams visit to explore the site in a typical year. The penitentiary has been featured on the Travel Channel’s Most Haunted LiveGhost Adventures, and Paranormal Challenge; Fox Television’s World’s Scariest Places; TLC’s America’s Ghost Hunters; and MTV’s FEAR. Footage captured on the second tier of Cellblock 12 by paranormal investigators during filming of SyFy’s Ghost Hunters may be the most controversial ghost sighting in history. During the filming of Paranormal Challenge S01E02, host Zak Bagans called Eastern State Penitentiary “one of the most haunted places in the world.”

Contact or Visit:

The Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site
2027 Fairmount Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Website: http://www.easternstate.org
Phone: 215-236-3300

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Since 2012, Frank Iacono has served as the President and CEO of The Creative Spotlight, the ultimate destination for unearthing a wealth of undiscovered musical talent, reading exciting interviews, releasing new music and sharing exclusive videos.

Every good story needs a good storyteller. And, The Creative Spotlight has truly provided a quality forum for revealing those great stories. Through the years, the online publication has featured national and local musicians such as Screaming For Silence, Ages Apart, Roxy Petrucci, Peter Beckett, We The Kings, Everything Falls, Rod Black, Derek Crider, Daniel Mason Band, Michelle Leigh, Jessie G., Karen Mansfield and Hillbilly Vegas. Additionally, we’ve also focused on historic Pennsylvania-based paranormal venues, well-known actors and actresses, published authors, professional artists, local businesses, consultants, trainers, speakers and more…

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he earned his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Joanne Thompson: Thompson Landry Gallery

Written by: Frank Iacono


As Canada’s only gallery specializing exclusively in Quebec artwork, the Thompson Landry Gallery, which officially opened in March of 2006 by Joanne Thompson and her partner Sylvain Landry, has gained international recognition for its unique ability to provide a space in which the spirit and culture of Quebec is encapsulated.

Housed in the heart of Toronto’s Historic Distillery District, The Thompson Landry Gallery, an impressive 7,000 square feet in total, is comprised of two distinct spaces: The Stone Distillery Building and The Cooperage Space. Each gallery offers a dynamic and exciting ambiance that pays homage to the work of both the very best contemporary artists and the Great Masters from the province of Quebec. Appropriately deemed “The Temple of Quebec Art” by the Toronto Star, the Thompson Landry Gallery is the only location where you can find the talent and diversity that Quebec artists have achieved in their work.

Each gallery space simultaneously reflects their architectural history and boasts unique backdrops that emphasize the artwork on display. Painting, sculpture, glass work, and photography are all set against the original limestone and exposed brick and plaster walls. The juxtaposition between the artwork and the rawness of the spaces creates an extraordinary experience for the viewer.

Always on the leading edge of the artwork coming out of the province of Quebec, the Thompson Landry Gallery pushes the boundaries to find work that is both innovative and exceptional.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joanne Thompson and asking her about her early art influences, her background, her specific style of art, her favorite artists, and her passion for being an art dealer.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: How and when did you decide to embark in your profession as a gallerist? And, what made you decide to set up shop in the historic Distillery District in Toronto, Ontario Canada?

Joanne Thompson: In 2004 my partner Sylvain Landry and I decided that we wanted to open a gallery in Toronto. The key was finding the perfect place for it. We wanted something that was spacious and had a lot of character. Not something cold and sterile, but a place our clients would feel at home.

The Stone Building at the Distillery District had all those characteristics. I could also design and finish it the way I wanted. We knew we had to build our clientele, so opening in a walking arts district with other galleries, a theatre and one of a kind shops (the Distillery District) made sense to us. It took two years of planning, and we also needed to wait until the Distillery finished the building (late 2005) so that we could move in and finish our space. We finally opened our gallery in March 2006.


My background is in set design and stage management for theatre. I also worked as a scenic artist in the art department for film and TV. I have always collected artwork, and contemporary Quebec artwork in particular. Artists from Quebec continually asked for my partner Sylvain’s and my opinion on where they should be represented in Toronto. We tried to help them out, but there was never a perfect match. That was when we realized that there was a place in Toronto for a gallery that specialized in the works of contemporary Quebec artists.

TCS: For the benefit of those who are not familiar with Joanne Thompson or the Thompson Landry Gallery, please share with us your education, certifications, training, and/or additional qualifications that you possess?

JT: I graduated in 1993 with an Honours BFA in Theatre – specifically in set design and stage management. That training helped me to be able to think of the design of a room as a whole, and stage management taught me how to be ridiculously organized and deal with pressure. Hanging an exhibition is just a little like producing a theatrical production. I do not have any formal training in curatorial studies or art sales. Being able to visualize a space where the work is to be displayed in three dimensions is of upmost importance to creating a well curated hang.


I was drawn to Contemporary Quebec artwork in particular because the artists continually push and manipulate the boundaries of their artwork. You can find this in so many ways: in their subjects, their use of mediums, their fearlessness in their approach to their artwork. Nothing supersedes the passion that you can find in their work, and that is something that I truly believe in.

TCS: Can you specifically define what educational path one would take to become a curator?

JT: There are some great universities in Canada that have curatorial and art history courses. For post grad, Sotheby’s Institute of Art has locations in NYC, Los Angeles and London which is a very good way to learn more of the business side of the art world. I believe that interning at an auction house, commercial gallery or museum to get some hands-on experience is always a good idea. Obtaining as much diverse experience as possible is what I would recommend. I would also say that life experience is key. Travelling, visiting galleries, exhibitions and art shows will help to give a better overall perspective of what is happening in the world of art, and will open your mind to new ideas.


TCS: How have your experiences as an artist shaped your approach to running a gallery?

JT: Coming from a design background I have an appreciation for the time and creative effort it takes for an artist to put together either just one piece, or a full exhibition of works. I think it helps me to understand their process and it makes working together enjoyable and stress free.

TCS: Was there a specific artist that you were most excited about bringing into the Thompson Landry Gallery? And, tell us how you determine which art and artists you will showcase?

JT: I think that the artist I was most excited about bringing onboard at the Thompson Landry Gallery when we first opened 10 years ago was abstract artist, Jean-Pierre Lafrance. He had 35 years of experience and his masterful abstracts are some of the best in Canada. I had collected his works, and respected him as an artist, for many years.

There are several determining factors to choosing artists for the gallery. The first, and most importantly, is we need to love and believe in what the artist does. We always look at whether the artist has something original to say, and do their works consistently share that with the viewer. Finally, it is important to look at whether their works compliment the roster we have already created, and do they add a new perspective and something exciting to the gallery as a whole.


TCS: Share with us some of the highlights from the Thompson Landry Gallery 2016 Exhibitions? And, describe for us what we can expect in 2017?

JT: 2016 was a very exciting year for us as we celebrated our 10th anniversary of the gallery. We had an enormous exhibition featuring 19 of our painters and sculptors creating over 100 works that were displayed in both galleries. The exhibition was widely attended and was one of the most remarkable displays we have curated to date.

In 2016 we also had very successful solo exhibitions for Marie-Josée Roy and André Pitre.

2017 is proving to already have a thrilling start for the gallery. From January 27th through March 12th we are featuring 2 of our artists, Laurence Nerbonne and Ognian Zekoff, in our Cooperage space in celebration of Light Fest at the Distillery District. These two artists are masters of light and shadow, creating dramatic and emotion filled figurative works.

Also in 2017 we have a fantastic line up of very talented, internationally renowned artists:

  • May 18th – June 4th: Danielle Lanteigne and Dominique Fortin
  • June 22nd – July 9th: Jean-Pierre Lafrance
  • September 6th – 24th: Stikki Peaches
  • November 9th – 26th: France Jodoin


TCS: Describe for us what you think sets the Thompson Landry Gallery apart from other galleries?

JT: At first glance, when you walk into either of the gallery spaces, the work takes your breath away. The pieces on the walls are dynamic, colourful and created with a passion that exudes from the works. The artwork is lit by a professional who makes sure that the works are experienced at their very best. The spaces are welcoming and invite people to stay for a long period of time and enjoy the artwork. Whether someone walking in is enjoying the gallery for the first time, or if they are a versed collector, they are treated with upmost respect and courtesy. The most important thing for us is that our clients are comfortable and have a very enjoyable and memorable experience.

Also, having 2 separate spaces enables us to have a solo show in one gallery while we exhibit our other artists in the other gallery. This means that there are no lengthy times when artists are not being displayed.

TCS: How has the Thompson Landry Gallery evolved over the years?

JT: After three years of having our first space at the Distillery, we opened our second, Cooperage Space. That increased our square footage from 2700 square feet to 7000 square feet.

We have evolved with the artwork that we represent. As the artwork coming out of Quebec changes, we change with it. We want to stay current and always have something new for our clients to discover at our gallery.


TCS: Looking back over the first 10 years of operation, what do you consider the most successful exhibit?

JT: A very difficult question because it depends on what you mean by “successful”. Some exhibitions have been very financially successful while others are received incredibly well by both the press and by clients, but maybe do not sell as well.

We held an exhibition called GAIA in August 2012, both inside and outside the gallery. It was comprised of 30 pieces inside and 60 large scale works outside around the Distillery District. The works were photographs taken of the earth, by Guy Laliberté, during the time he spent 11 days in space circling the globe 220 miles from the surface of the earth. These photographs were not colour adjusted in any way, as he wanted to show the earth as it really is. All the proceeds from any sales of these photographs went directly to ONE DROP. ONE DROP is a non-profit organization founded by Laliberté to fight poverty worldwide by ensuring access to clean water now and in the future.

This was a very proud moment for the gallery. We were very happy to be part of such a great cause and such an artistic achievement in large scale photography.

TCS: As an art dealer, what’s the gallery’s greatest achievement?

JT: I believe that the gallery’s greatest achievement is the reputation we have built over the past 10 years. Not only with our clients, but with the artists from Quebec. We treat our artists with the upmost respect. This is very important because the relationship between gallerist and artist is hopefully a lifelong one. I am happy when I can make my artists happy.

My proudest moment was probably at our 10th anniversary celebration last September when I could look around at 19 of our artists and know that we have worked incredibly hard but together we have made the gallery a success.


TCS: When the Thompson Landry Gallery is closed do you visit other art galleries to look at the work of specific artists?

JT: The life of a gallery owner is not glamourous. It means working 6 to 7 days per week, during both the day and night. My one day off tends to be on Mondays which is a day that all other galleries in the city are also closed. That, sadly, makes visiting the other galleries quite difficult. My partner and I do travel quite a lot and visit many galleries in cities all over Europe. We also take the time to visit galleries and studios in Montreal and Quebec City to see who is being featured, and to find artists that we may not have known about before. We are always keeping our eye open for something new and exciting.

TCS: Do you collect? What artists – aside from the ones you represent – are of interest to you?

JT: Yes, collecting is what created my path to owning and operating a gallery.
I love the following international artists: Sophie Ryder, Jean-Pierre Ruel, Desiréé Dolron, Jonas Burgert, Simon Casson, Nicolas Hicks and Quebec artists: Paul Beliveau, Kevin Sonmore,

I also like to collect the lithographs of Marc Chagall and Jean Cocteau

TCS: What piece of artwork has affected you the most and why?

JT: I do not think that there is one particular work that has affected me more than others. I enjoy and appreciate many forms of artwork and to choose just one is impossible for me.

TCS: What is your mantra and, how does it sum up your life?

JT: Eleanor Roosevelt — “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Jump into everything you do with equal amounts of passion, intelligence and conviction. Live life to its fullest and don’t be scared to try something new.


TCS: Being a successful art dealer requires both “art” and business skills. What do you think is the optimal mix? Has your opinion on that changed in the past 10 years?

JT: Having business skills are definitely essential to owning an art gallery. That and being able to relate to people, whether it is your clients or the artists you represent. 10 years ago, I didn’t know that being the Director of an art gallery, I would create such long and close relationships with both my artists and my clients, many I now call my close friends. You need to be able to read people and what they need from you.

Having “a good eye” in order to create a hang is where I mostly use my “art” skills. This also comes into use when going into a client’s home and advising them in terms of pieces, size and location.

TCS: What advice do you have for young artists who want to make a living through their art?

JT: Work hard and just keep at it. Find your visual language and the message you want to send into the world and sick by it. But, don’t be scared to try new things. When you are ready to find a gallery to be represented at, do your research and find a gallery that you trust and will well represent you. It is a two-way relationship that will hopefully be very long term.

About Frank Iacono


Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.stone-gallery-panorama-low-res-jpg

Randy Bates: Haunted Attractions

Written by: Frank Iacono


Over the years, Halloween has become one of the most celebrated holidays of the year, and this is important as the Halloween season lasts for the whole month of October. With the advent of high-tech horror movies and shows coupled with their amazing special effects, haunted attractions strive to create an atmosphere of realism that rival these Hollywood films and television. Now more than ever, people are going to haunted attractions, hayrides, corn mazes, and pumpkin patches.

Haunted Houses in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area are some of the scariest haunted houses in America. And, Randy Bates, better known as the mayhem-keeper, operates two major haunted attractions in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area. In 1991, he opened The Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride, located on Arasapha Farm in Glen Mills, PA, and then in 2009 he became the managing partner of the Pennhurst Haunted Asylum, located in Spring City, PA. Both are highly detailed and themed, and have a combination of high-tech animatronics, digital sound and light systems, and professional actors. The Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride is a member of America Haunts, the national coalition of America’s best haunted attractions.

With its trilogy of terror that includes The Bates Motel, Haunted Hayride, and The Haunted Corn Maze, Arasapha has been terrifying visitors with some of the most amazing heart-pounding theatrics, Hollywood-style special effects, costumes, props, and trained actors for years. The attraction has garnered national attention and even been named one of the best 13 haunted attractions in America year after frightening year. Additionally, the Bates attractions have been featured in various publications including Haunted Attractions Magazine and Hauntworld Magazine as well as on the Travel Channel.

The Pennhurst Haunted Asylum consists of 4 main attractions. The Asylum is a hospital themed walk-through of the first and second floors of the old administration building. The Dungeon of Lost Souls is a medical experiment laboratory gone horribly wrong. Using items found on the abandoned Pennhurst property, this attraction is dark and intense. The Tunnel Terror haunt is located in the subterranean tunnels of the Pennhurst complex: a 900-foot walk-through of the darkest history at Pennhurst. The Ghost Hunt attraction is a self-guided tour of the Mayflower dormitory, reportedly the most haunted building on the premises, and featured on Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Randy Bates and asking him a few questions about his farm, his career in the haunt industry, his attractions, his influences, his success and struggles, and the future of the fright business.

Q&A Session

TCS: How and when did you decide to delve into a career in the haunt industry and whom or what would you say inspired you?

Randy Bates: In the late 80’s there was a haunted trail nearby that was a fundraiser for a local historical society. In 1990, they shut down due to damage to their property. In 1991, we decided to run a similar operation, but do it from our hay wagons. For 15 years, we had been doing hayrides and bonfires for church groups, scouts, fraternities, and so on. So, we had the infrastructure in place to start the haunted hayride. I really had no one that inspired me; in fact, I had never heard of haunted hayrides and never went to a haunted house. I always loved scaring people and tormented my sisters and their friends. This is our 26th season and the business has saved our family farm and provides income to over 300 people.

TCS: For the benefit of those who are not familiar with Arasapha Farm located in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, can you describe for us the three main haunted attractions and how they have evolved over the years?

RB: The Haunted Hayride began in 1991, Bates Motel opened in 1996, and the Revenge of the Scarecrows Haunted Trail opened in 2000. Each event gets additional props, sets, and scenes each year as we always strive to be the best.

The Haunted Hayride

For over 25 years, the Haunted Hayride at Arasapha Farm has been scaring its visitors with amazing props, digital FX, great actors and extraordinary professional makeup. The Hayride has been featured several times on the Travel Channel and has been rated as the Number 1 Haunted Attraction in America by Hauntworld Magazine, USA Today, and many other national publications. The Haunted Hayride is a 25-minute, action packed, heart pounding ride through the dark forest of Arasapha Farm, located just outside of Philadelphia Pennsylvania, and is filled with huge, detailed sets, giant monsters and more pyrotechnics than a Kiss concert. With scenes like a 100’ foot long, 40-foot-tall drive thru insane asylum, a full-scale mockup of a New England church and a 200-foot-long cave, the Haunted Hayride is an amazing example of Hollywood style sets and props. And then there is the scares. With over 75 actors and 25 scenes, it is no wonder why this event is always on the “Top 13” national lists of the best haunted attractions. To celebrate our 25th Anniversary, we have added a new, giant set that will put this year’s hayride over the top. This jaw dropping scene is guaranteed to strike fear in the bravest of souls! And, this year we present the return of the Headless Horseman, one of our customer’s all-time favorites.


Bates Motel

Don’t forget to check into the Bates Motel, for the most incredible display of terror and mayhem this side of Hollywood. Filled with high tech special effects, digital soundtrack and lighting, the Bates Motel takes Halloween to a new level of horror…up close and personal! With incredible detail and stellar acting, it is no wonder why the Bates Motel is considered one of the best Haunted Houses in America. The realism in this attraction is astonishing and is guaranteed to wow the experienced haunted house enthusiast. As you creep through this show, you see levitating spirits, floor boards that come alive, pictures that follow you, and incredible, custom animatronic props that you will not see anywhere else. The actors interact with you on a personal level and the screams echo throughout the building! What’s new for this year? You will have to come out and see for yourself! The Bates Motel is a high startle; high action haunted attraction and not recommended for children under 8 or people with heart conditions.


Revenge of the Scarecrows Haunted Trail

The third show in this Trilogy of Terror at Arasapha Farm is the Revenge of the Scarecrows Haunted Trail. It is a terrifying walk through a tall corn field filled with buildings and sets, tons of animatronic monsters and over 30 actors in full makeup and custom costumes. This event is like no other corn maze in the country and has fast become a favorite at the Bates Farm.

Arasapha Farms Haunted Corn Maze

TCS: When do you start preparing for the Bates Motel haunted hayride and the haunted corn maze and tell us what exactly goes into the overall preparation?

RB: Preparation begins in January. We start with a brainstorming session with our managers and creative staff. Ideas are thrown around and detailed plans are drawn up. Build crew lists materials needed, electronics, lighting, and what props we will need. Over the winter months, our art staff refurbishes older props and creates new ones in our mold and sculpts facility. The construction crew repairs animatronics, adds new features to the and manufactures new ones in our metal fabrication shop.

In March, our staff attends the Transworld Halloween trade show in St. Louis, Missouri. There, we attend seminars, network with other haunt owners, and search the show for new props, makeup, and ideas. Some of our staff, including myself, hosts seminars for the show. These include safety and awareness, show control operations, makeup, and custom mold making. Once we return from St. Louis, construction begins on the Bates Motel. Rooms are torn out and replaced with new ones. By April construction begins on the hayride, usually with additional trails, sets and props. We have our own sawmill on the farm and produce lumber for many of these sets. By July, we are in full blown construction with as many as 15 employees working full-time.

When we come up with a new idea, the build crew draws up the construction design and a list of materials, the electronics crew determines how the scene will be triggered, lighting, sound effects, foggers, and most importantly, where the scare is. The art crew then decide how the scene will be detailed, paints needed, additional scene decoration and what the characters will be wearing and type of mask or makeup.

All of this is what sets us apart from other attractions is our uniqueness.

TCS: Can you talk about how your key staff members utilize your complete workshop on the premises to create some of the details of each of attraction?

RB: Our facility has a complete metal fabrication section, wood shop, and creative art department. We make our own makeup appliances, masks, and monsters.

TCS: Can you describe the talent search process in becoming an actor for your haunted attractions?

RB: First we ask current employees if they have family or friends that would be interested in working for the attractions. We have a link on our website where potential staff can complete an employment form. We also advertise on Craig’s list. Once we have a sufficient number of potential employees, we hold auditions at the farm. We usually hold these in July and August. My Daughter, Angela handles all hiring and staff placement; an enormous job considering we have over 300 employees. At the auditions, our actor managers put these people thru an intensive workshop to determine if they will be suitable for the long hours and physical stress.

TCS: Which one of your three attractions is the most popular and why?

RB: Our most popular attraction is The Haunted Hayride. This is most likely due to the fact that it’s suitable for all ages. One of my favorite scenes is our collapsing mine shaft. It is something we drew up years ago and still gets great screams. The Bates Motel and Haunted Trail are more intense as the actors and props are much closer to the customers.

TCS: Can you tell us about how your attendance at the Halloween Trade Show in Chicago, Illinois, in 1996 truly impacted your decision to open The Bates Motel attraction?

RB: In 1996, my staff and I attended the Halloween Trade Show in Chicago, IL. Until that point, we had pretty much developed in a vacuum with little or no outside influence. When we saw the amazing props, masks, and costumes that were available, it totally blew us away. I attended a seminar given by Leonard Pickel, an authority on haunted houses since the early 1980s. We learned how to design and build a haunt from the ground up. I also attended a seminar on haunted hayrides, eager for great information. It was the most disappointing seminar as the presenter was operating his hayride with customers sitting in the back of a pickup truck! This is when we realized that we were at the cutting edge of hayrides, and even had other haunt owners pumping us for info. During this time, haunters would not exchange info with anyone who had an attraction in the same state. I never had that problem and now attraction owners discuss their operations freely.

TCS: How long have you and your family owned Arasapha Farm? And, can you describe for us some of the other attractions that you’ve implemented over the years to keep the farm running on a yearly basis?

RB: Arasapha farm was purchased in 1952 by my parents Bill and Anne Bates. They raised sheep, chickens and then game birds such as pheasants, quail and fancy birds. They also grew crops. In 1970, my dad and I planted 2000 Christmas trees that we eventually harvested and sold. After my father died in 1982, my wife, two kids and I moved back to the farm to help my mother. Over the years we have developed the farm into an Agritainment venue, with the Halloween events, Daytime children’s events, including bounce houses, farm animal petting zoo, hayrides, corn mazes and other fun games. In 2006, we planted 5,000 trees, and began our Holiday Hayride. This is a ride thru the rolling hills of the farm with huge light displays, festive music, snow machines and live reindeer. We also added a Santa’s workshop, photos with Santa and a gift shop. At all our attractions we offer food and drinks.

TCS: Can you give us at least three “Good to Know” facts about The Bates Motel, Haunted Hayride, and The Haunted Corn Maze?

RB: Three good to know facts are:

  • If you plan to come out on a Saturday night in October, be prepared to wait in long lines. Our attractions have become very popular over the years and the majority of our customers come on Saturday nights.
  • Always wear comfortable shoes as you will be on a working farm.
  • The Haunted Hayride is always the first attraction to close, so make sure you do that event first.

TCS: In your opinion, what do you feel are the key factors in operating a successful haunted attraction?

RB: Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise! To have a successful event, you need a great team. From management staff to artists and IT guys, you must have a complete staff. Marketing is the next most important key to success. A complete marketing plan that includes media ads, print articles, coupons and flyers, and digital marketing is necessary. You also need to have a quality show which will bring in repeat business. Changes to your show are also necessary for the repeaters.

TCS: Within Pennsylvania, there are many well-known haunted attractions so what do you feel makes your attraction stand out from all the other scary destinations?

RB: There are lots of quality attractions in the area. One thing this has done is raise the awareness of Haunted Attractions in the tristate area. PA has become a mecca for travelers looking for the best haunted attractions, and people come from all over the US and Canada. Our attractions stand out because of our uniqueness. I don’t attend other shows, so all our ideas are our own. Usually by the end of the season, I’m pretty burnt out, but now that my family is running many aspects for the business, it has taken a lot of stress off my shoulders. I still get excited when we design and build new things, and love watching the customers high five each other after attending.

TCS: Have you embraced social media marketing strategies to promote and market your business?

RB: Yes, we have used social media to market our business and stay connected with our audience via the following vehicles:

  • Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride Website
  • Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride Facebook
  • Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride Instagram
  • Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride Twitter
  • Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride YouTube

TCS: Congratulations on running such a fun and successful attraction for the past 26 years. In that timeframe, what would you say has been the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of running your haunted attractions?

RB: The most rewarding part is watching my children grow up and become major parts of my business. Also, the thank you’s we get from our customers. For over 12 years, we have made all the top 13 lists, including number one attraction in the country 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. Being featured in major publications and on network television, including twice on the Travel Channel has also been rewarding. The most challenging aspects of the business is handling over 300 employees. The hiring, paperwork and actor placement takes a lot of time and effort. We have a backup team ready to fill in when staff call out and that makes for a lot of juggling.

TCS: Describe your role as Managing Partner with the Pennhurst Haunted Asylum?

RB: In 2009, I was approached by the owner of Pennhurst to produce a haunted attraction there. I wrote the business plan and told him that if I was to be involved, that it had to be world class right from the start. The Bates Motel build crew spent most of the spring and all summer in 2010 and opened with two attractions that October. There was a lot of negative publicity surrounding the use of the property, and all my friends said don’t worry, publicity is good. They were right.

Opening night was amazing, with all three major networks and Fox News covering us with live feeds. The first year we built the Asylum haunt and the tunnel of terror. We worked right up until opening day. In 2011, we designed the Dungeon of Lost Souls, a more mainstream themed attraction. My daughter, who handled all the social media marketing, mentioned that many people wanted to see some of the buildings as they were 30 years ago. So, we opened the ghost hunt attraction. It became an instant success. Dealing with partners can be difficult at times but we made the best of it. In early 2016 the property owner fell into bankruptcy and was threatened with foreclosure on many of his properties, including the Pennhurst property. A new owner is in the process of purchasing it and will open the attractions this year. I decided to sell my shares in the business, partly to take off some of the stress, and also remove myself from liability issues due to the deterioration of the buildings. The previous owner refused to perform maintenance on the buildings and I feel that they are becoming a serious liability. I wish the new staff well.

TCS: What do you think is the fascination behind people wanting to be scared or frightened? And, do you believe in the Paranormal?

RB: Getting scared is an adrenaline rush for most people. There is the physical as well as the mental reaction that people crave and hate at the same time. We designed our attractions to be like a roller coaster ride. Suspenseful beginning, music to get them on edge, then hit them with the scares. Our ultimate job is to mess with people’s heads, and we have gotten very good at it. As for Paranormal, I feel that some people are tuned into it and others are not. I have worked, alone, in the pitch-black darkness in the basement at Pennhurst, and never saw anything. My daughter, who is also a professional photographer is tuned in and has had many experiences both at home and at Pennhurst.

TCS: Yes, I know we should have ended the interview with 13 questions to keep with the freight theme, but our audience needs to know where do you see the haunted attraction industry headed within the next five years?

RB: Every year, I attend the Transworld Haunted Attraction Show, now located in St. Louis. Every other year we attend the IAAPA show in Orlando, Florida. We also periodically attend the Mid-west haunter’s convention in Columbus, Ohio. It’s always great to see old friends and make new ones. In 1997, I helped found the International Association of Haunted Attractions, and was a past board member. In 2003, we founded the association called America Haunts, a group of the largest haunted attractions around the country. There were 5 original members and have now grown to 28. This is an invitation only, market exclusive association that works together to promote haunted attractions around the country. We gather at the trade shows and have an annual meeting each year at one of the member’s attraction. The group trades ideas, develops unique marketing strategies and promote our attractions.

In 2005, we hired a film crew and produced a one-hour TV show called America Haunts. It was sold to the Travel Channel, who liked to format so much they shot 4 more shows the nest year, filming our new members. In 2010 I helped found the Haunted House Association, with the idea that any trade association should be run by qualified attraction owners. I am a past board member and past president of this group. In 2007, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania began requiring Haunted House owners to take a safety course, pass an inspector’s test and file required paperwork with them. I was asked to help write the test and put together seminars specific to haunted attractions. Since then, I teach Code Compliance in Haunted Houses, Hayride Safety, and Outdoor Attraction Safety to new inspectors.

Along with these organizations, I am also a member of our local volunteer fire company, sit on the Delaware County Conservation District board, and am the Vice Chairman of the Edgmont Township Supervisors.

I see the Haunted Attraction industry going the way of Hollywood and video games. Everything is becoming more sophisticated, computerized, and detailed. Someone trying to break in to this business has to put up a lot of money to open and compete. Shows like The Walking Dead on AMC, and all the horror movies that are out prove that there is a huge horror audience. In the Philadelphia market alone, there are over 10 major attractions, with many smaller operations. With this much marketing going on, the consumer becomes hyper aware of Halloween haunted attractions, which benefits all of us.

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.