by Margaret Downey
It’s not often that a skeptic conference happens to take place on a weekend that includes a Friday the thirteenth, but this July the fortunate coincidence occurred! A yearly conference hosted by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) takes place in Las Vegas, Nevada. The event is affectionately known as “The Amazing Meeting” (TAM). Year after year, the conference lives up to its name — amazing!
JREF conference organizers, familiar with the Freethought Society’s (FS) Friggatriskaidekaphobia Treatment Center concept, extended an invitation to FS to join in the festivities. The 2012 conference dates matched up to a July Friday the thirteenth. JREF provided the use of a room located across the hall from the main ballroom at the South Point Hotel.
FS volunteers set up a self-guided museum of superstitions along with an anti-superstition obstacle course. The venue was visited throughout the day by conference attendees, the press and JREF’s invited speakers/presenters. Each visitor to the room complimented the volunteers regarding the hard work that went in to the museum display, costuming and souvenirs.
Pre-conference duties were many and I relied heavily on my Las Vegas friends to help coordinate long-distance needs. Former American Humanist Association president, resident of Las Vegas and FS supporter Mel Lipman took charge of a few pick-up and delivery needs.
FS supporter Michael Jacobson acted as a receiving agent for all pre-event boxes shipped to the Las Vegas location. Jacobson not only delivered the packages to the hotel but he also provided a pick-up service from the airport to the hotel. He lent his car to me, and that generous act made it possible for me to purchase many of the fresh foods placed on display at the Friggatriskaidekaphobia Treatment Center.
On display was a magnificent piñata, custom made by FS supporter Celestia Ward. She is a Las Vegas artist who specializes in caricatures, sculptures and commercial illustrations. Ward is also co-owner of Two Heads Studios (http://2headsstudios.com/), and a writer. She could not attend TAM 2012 because of a commitment to attend and work at Comic-Com held the same weekend as TAM. Ward also designed a poster that was used to direct people to the room being used as the Friggatriskaidekaphobia Treatment Center.
The Ward piñata was made in the shape of a Mayan calendar so that one “lucky” person could “smash” the myth that the world will end on December 21, 2012. The name drawn was a young man who had a difficult time smashing the well-constructed piñata. George Hrab (TAM’s 2012 Master of Ceremonies) helped pry open the piñata so that the funny items inside could be thrown into the audience. Many people walked out of the ballroom with plastic insects and snakes, glow in the dark jewelry, hot chili pepper spicy treats, and peppermints wrapped in a fake 1 million dollar bill.
The museum display tables were divided into categories of superstitions. Food, household items, animals, clothing and many other superstitions were highlighted on each table. Interesting signs carefully explained each superstition.
The official greeters to the museum were (in alphabetical order) Tarina Darkaudisho, Jeremy DiCarlo, Linda DiCarlo, Matthew DiCarlo, Magdalena Gos, Ayden Grella, Tracy McPherson and Tom Schottmiller. Each greeter wore a costume fitting their particular expertise.
Visitors to the museum were encouraged by the greeters to sign up to be the person selected to smash the piñata and a mirror. There were also some interactive displays and “Clean Bill of Mental Health” certificates were given as souvenirs.
McPherson, who was dressed as a Friggatriskaidekaphobia Treatment Center Nurse, sat at the entrance of the Treatment Center distributing “Save the Date” cards and encouraging passersby to tour the museum/displays and get tested for latent superstitions by the rest of the “mock medical” crew. The next Friggatriskeidekaphobia Treatment Center will open on September 13, 2013 somewhere in the Philadelphia area. Watch this newsletter for more details.
After the event, McPherson stated that she “enjoyed greeting TAM attendees at the door and interacting with the other volunteers. Everyone had fun and hopefully learned something new regarding superstitions.”
Chris DiCarlo was a scheduled speaker for TAM and his entire family volunteered to help set up the Treatment Center room, work at the Center and take down the displays. DiCarlo delivered a brilliant speech and his family worked hard to help make the Treatment Center a huge success.
Volunteers Darkaudisho and Gos had never attended TAM even though they live in Las Vegas. Darkaudisho said that she was pleased to have had “...an opportunity to meet and network with people who are a part of the skeptic/atheist movement, which is what I hope to be involved with more in the future."
Gos said that as the Miss Fortune Teller she enjoyed “...interacting with people, playing off the fortune telling fad. Telling fortunes with a negative twist reminded me of a carnival sideshow — except I didn't get to pick any pockets. I certainly had fun as the character!"
Brian Dunning is pictured at right taking the anti-superstition test at the TAM 2012 event. Dunning is the host of the popular podcast, “Skeptoid.” He is defiantly standing under the ladder where Ward’s custom “End Times” event poster was attached.