Hometown of 'Addams Family' creator celebrates his spooky and kooky creation with 'AddamsFest'

ByRolando Pujol and Mark Nunez Localish logo
Monday, November 13, 2023
'AddamsFest' celebrates spooky & kooky family in cartoonist's hometown
Westfield, New Jersey, has become the playground of the creepy, spooky and all-together kooky "Addams Family."

WESTFIELD, NJ -- Salem, Massachusetts, is the so-called "Witch City." Sleepy Hollow, New York, is the hilly home of the Headless Horseman. And Westfield, New Jersey, has become the playground of the creepy, spooky and all-together kooky "Addams Family."

For the sixth year in a row, the birthplace of cartoonist Charles Addams, the creator of the beloved "Addams Family," has turned this charming suburban town into an immersive celebration called "AddamsFest."

These streets were a wellspring for Addams' imagination as a child in the early 20th century, and influenced his most famous creation.

Every day on his walk to school along Elm Street, the young Addams passed a haunting Victorian mansion that helped shape his depiction of his iconic "Addams Family" house. The young Addams frolicked amid the Colonial-era gravestones in the Presbyterian Church's burial ground, where lantern tours are offered during "AddamsFest."

The Rialto Theater on East Broad Street appeared in his classic cartoons in the New Yorker magazine, where Addams freelanced for decades, first publishing an "Addams Family" panel in 1938.

The characters did not have names in his cartoons, but they made Addams, who signed them "Chas Addams," a household name.

It wasn't until the cartoons were being retooled for the beloved 1964-66 ABC-TV sitcom that Addams christened his characters, including matriarch Morticia, patriarch Gomez, Uncle Fester, and children Pugsley, and, of course, Wednesday. The sitcom plays in reruns to this day, and has spawned a cottage industry of movies and most recently, the Netflix series "Wednesday."

Indeed, it's been said that every day in Westfield is "Wednesday," and "AddamsFest" is the biggest sign of that.

"AddamsFest" is an ambitious volunteer effort that was the brainchild of Councilwoman Dawn Mackey, the chair of the celebration.

"In 2018 our brand new mayor was interested in doing something that was special for the town, uniquely ours. So we talked about the people that were famous from Westfield, and Addams grew up on Elm Street, whose house is historically designated," Mackey said.

The bones were there for a spectacular yearly celebration, and almost as quickly as you can snap your fingers twice, as in Vic Mizzy's "Addams Family" theme, "AddamsFest" went from ghostly idea to raucous reality.

"The first idea that we came up with was ... the Wicked Windows of Westfield. Sixty-five to 70 windows have been decorated by local artists," Mackey said. "And when you're walking through our downtown, hopefully you pick up a cup of cocoa, maybe an ice cream cone, but it becomes an event. We have about 35 street signs" that celebrate the show, such as Addams Way or Pugsley Path.

A centerpiece of the celebration is the Gallery on Elm Street, where original works by Addams are evocatively paired with the rarely seen creations of Edward Gorey, and the art is only part of the experience.

"A very small group of amazing and dedicated volunteers have transformed an empty storefront into a gallery that we hope is evocative of a deserted Victorian garden," Mackey said. "So we hope when you walk in here, you'll feel a chill and a little dampness, like you're walking through a forgotten place."

All month, "AddamsFest" has been offering events like an ale garden, a masquerade ball, family activities, the Haunt Your House contest, a pet parade and costume contest and much more. All year, you can admire "The Addams Family" murals on the Central Avenue Underpass.

This weekend, as Halloween looms, is an ideal time to explore the town in search of traces of the "Addams Family." You can visit Goth at the Gallery, a "fashion show to delight the Wednesday or Enid in you."

A must-see site is The Addams Family House on Mindowaskin Pond, a replica of the house that is a nod to another Westfield tradition, this one at Christmas time -- the replica of the Presbyterian Church. Even the local Trader Joe's gets into the action, with a replica Addams Family House.

When you visit the gallery, make sure to say hello to Dudley -- or he'll have a bone to pick with you! That's because Dudley is a sketch of a skeleton attributed to Addams, created long before his work ever appeared in the New Yorker.

"For many, many years, there have been stories that Addams was a mischievous teen and would graffiti people's garages and barns. And there was this story of a house on Dudley (Avenue) that may have had an original Addams in their barn. The owners took Mayor (Shelley) Brindle into the barn, and there was this 6-foot skeleton scrawled in the middle of a room full of graffiti," Mackey said. The barn had long been a miscreant hangout, but taggers respected Dudley and never defaced him.

Experts determined that Dudley was an Addams original, and with the blessing of the family that owns the barn, Dudley was carved out of his longtime home and is now on display in the gallery.

In so doing, one of Addams' earliest works now sits besides some of his most famous cartoons, including one depicting two unicorns, watching wistfully as Noah's Ark sails away. (Most of Addams' cartoons did not involve his famous family.)

But "Addams Family" or not, all of his cartoons share a hilariously warped world view that packs an emotional wallop.

"When you read through his cartoons, they're deep. They're funny. They're macabre," Mackey said.

They also resonate with audiences today for reasons beyond the familiarity of the friendly if frightening family.

"He was so forward thinking .. he drew strong women characters. He celebrated the weird part of family that was so unorthodox, and yet loving and accepting in their own way," Mackey said.