The Santa Claus of Halloween 

Sammy Terry has an upcoming TV special

Sammy Terry has an upcoming TV special
He isn’t very scary now. But he isn’t Sammy Terry right now, either. At this moment, he’s Bob Carter, a 72-year-old man dressed in a Hawaiian print shirt and white pants sitting in a booth at the diner in the Fountain Square Theatre building. His round face smiles easily under close-cropped white hair. Only his thick ring-announcer’s voice and his high-arched eyebrows hint of something more.
Then he laughs. Even if you never saw him hosting Shock Theater late at night on Channel 4 way back when, you feel that laugh as shivers up your spine. Carter’s alter ego, Sammy Terry, left TV 15 years ago. But he never stopped spooking fans who still turn out in the thousands to see him. They don’t come to rekindle fond memories of his low-budget show — think Elvira but with a big guy in a black cape and red makeup. They come because Sammy is the Santa Claus of Halloween. The diner’s fry cook, Tom Beever, walks up to Carter at his pink booth. “I just wanted to tell you that I miss you, Sammy,” Beever says, then asks for an autograph. “When I was a kid, it wasn’t the movies that you showed that scared me. It wasn’t the stuff you talked about before the commercials. It was when you laughed. That scared me. I would cover my ears and hide.” Carter is always amazed at this. And it always seems to happen. He broke his hip during a fall on the ice last winter and wound up in the hospital for a few days. So many workers were stopping by his room at all hours of the night to visit and get his autograph that the hospital had to release a staff memo asking employees to let him rest. “I think it’s wonderful that people think that much of me,” Carter says. “After a show has been off the air for 15 years, most personalities are long forgotten, but not Sammy.” Carter created Sammy Terry in 1962. Then, TV was still live — videotape was a few years off — and all of the commercials were created on the spot. Channel 4 had purchased a package of old horror movies and found a furniture store to sponsor the late-night program. It only lacked a suitable host. Carter, who was in charge of on-air promotions, had less than two weeks to create a character and build a set for the show. He came up with the name just two days before the first show — think “cemetery,” if you haven’t figured that out. His first costume was a black windbreaker turned backwards and a hood sewed by the station manager’s wife. The set consisted of a big coffee table with a broken rooster lamp on it and some fake cobwebs in the corner. In the early shows, Sammy sat on the studio’s cold concrete floor with his feet under the table, adlibbing everything. “While the movie was running in between commercials, the crew and I would decide what I would do next,” Carter says. “Those live shows were great. When videotape came along, you could redo it if you screwed up. That took a lot of the fun out of it.” With a few breaks here and there, the show lasted until the late 1980s — evolving from Shock Theater to Nightmare Theater to simply Sammy Terry. This Halloween, Sammy is making his return to TV in a special called Sammy Terry’s Scary Tales that will air at midnight on Oct. 31. It’s a show about true ghost stories from across Indiana. “This is a new direction for Sammy,” Carter says. “He’s always been able to tell stories. Those were always made up on the spot. These are true.” Carter is excited about his personal appearances and his return to TV. “It feels great,” he says, grinning. “You don’t spend this much of your life doing something unless you really love it. I do.”
Fountain Square is the place to be this Halloween night. Businesses in this up-and-coming neighborhood on the city’s Southeastside will be open for trick-or-treaters on Oct. 31 as part of the “Scare in the Square” event that runs from 5:30 until 7 p.m. This safe, free Halloween celebration builds on the neighborhood tradition of visiting the police and fire stations — adding a costume contest, pumpkin decorating, a haunted house and even free trick-or-treat bags for kids. More than 20 Fountain Square merchants and organizations will be participating in the celebration. Neighborhood volunteers will be positioned at street corners and at points along the trick-or-treat route. This “Scare in the Square Safety Squad” will keep kids on the sidewalks, prevent jaywalking, direct trick-or-treaters to destinations and provide safe crossing at intersections. The Wheeler Arts Community is creating the haunted house for the event. A group of eight residents of the former Wheeler-Schebler Carburetor factory — now 36 live-in studio spaces for artists — heard about the plans for the event and wanted to get involved. “We saw it as a great way for the artists and the merchants to start to work together,” said Daniel Evans, a photographer and Wheeler resident. “This is just another great example of how Fountain Square’s diverse community lives together and collaborates. When our friends in the neighborhood heard about the haunted house, they volunteered to help. We even have people from other areas of the city taking part, just because they think it is a cool idea,” Evans said. They are working with the Impact Group, a scenic arts and display studio located on Virginia Avenue. Impact Group is a member of the Fountain Square Merchants Association. The University of Indianapolis theater department will be donating the use of a smoke machine, and contributing their set-building expertise and some volunteer labor. The department uses the Wheeler building for some of its programming, including the community theater space where the haunted house will be staged. For more information about “Scare in the Square,” the Fountain Square Merchants Association and Fountain Square Main Street, visit Schedule of events 5:30-7 p.m. • Trick-or-treat at Fountain Square merchants • Scary stories at the library branch on Virginia Avenue • FREE haunted house at the Wheeler Arts Community on Sanders Street 5:30-6:30 p.m. • Pumpkin decorating at the Fountain at Virginia and Shelby streets 6:30 p.m. • Costume contest judging and prizes at the Fountain

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