March 15: The Day the Buzzards & Vampires Return to Hinckley

It’s that time of year again! Buzzards Day is right around the corner. You might be asking, what is Buzzards Day? It’s a pretty big deal for my hometown of Hinckley, Ohio.

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Every year on March 15, residents gather at the Buzzards Roost in the Cleveland Metroparks and anxiously await the return of the buzzard. The buzzards’ return signals that Spring is right  around the corner.

Photo credit: Ohio Festivals

Photo credit: Ohio Festivals

Hinckley celebrates the buzzard’s return in many different ways. There’s a pancake breakfast, craft show, a 50k race, and of course “the official buzzard spotter” who holds post at the Buzzards Roost, binoculars in hand, searching the skies for the return of the first buzzard.

Photo credit: Ohio Festivals

Photo credit: Ohio Festivals

Your next questions may be about what buzzards and vampires have in common. They both call Hinckley home! Well kind of, sort of. Let me elaborate.

When I decided to write The Descendant Vampire Series, I used my hometown as the basis for the fictional town of Buzzard Hill where my story is based. I thought the symbolism of the buzzard played nicely into my vampire theme. You see, buzzards are also known as the Peace Eagle since they only feed on dead animals. They can be seen circling the sky high above Hinckley looking for their next meal. At the end of The Descendant, buzzards circle high above Allison Carmichael (the main character) which symbolizes the state of Allison’s current situation (sorry, no spoilers here!).

I couldn’t write a book based in Buzzard Hill without mentioning Buzzards Day! In The Search (book 2 in the series), I have a major scene that occurs on Buzzard Hill town square. The location in the book is loosely based on Hinckley’s actual town square, but I took a lot of liberties. I added a gazebo on one corner, I blocked the streets off with barricades and had residents milling around the square, huddling over bonfires, sipping hot cocoa as they watched ice sculptures as they waited for shuttles to take them to the Buzzards Roost. But one thing I did not change was the bar on the corner.

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Foster’s Tavern is a local establishment in downtown Hinckley. The bar appears in my story, but I renamed it Scavenger’s Grille. The term scavenger also refers to buzzards and their preferred meal.

If you’ve been to Foster’s, then you know Brian the bartender. Brian makes a cameo in The Search.

Check out the excerpt below, describing the Buzzards Day festivities in The Search, and Brian’s cameo. Warning: there are spoilers if you haven’t read the books. And I promise you this isn’t the end of Brian’s cameo. Want to find out what happens to him?  You’ll have to read the book!

Excerpt from The Search

Photo credit: Ohio Festivals

Photo credit: Ohio Festivals

The tiny town of Buzzard Hill celebrated the buzzards’ return each year on March 15. Buzzards, which were also known as Mother Nature’s garbage collectors, feed only on dead animals.  It is said that the buzzards have been returning to Buzzard Hill since 1818 when they were first attracted to the area by the plethora of animals that had been killed.  Local farmers had lined the town’s perimeter and slowly moved inward, driving the predatory animals that had been attacking their livestock to a single location where they were killed.  The abundant food source attracted the buzzards and then they seemed to make their home here on the rocky ledges in the parks.  They leave in the winter for warmer climates with more food sources but unfailingly return to this town each year on March 15 and the residents didn’t miss a beat.  The town grabbed onto this marketing opportunity and ran with it.  Everything in the town was named after something buzzard-related.  There was Buzzards Brew Coffee House, Scavengers Bar and Grille, and every street within the town’s limits was named accordingly.  The street Matt and I had lived on was called Peace Eagle Pass in a nod to the creature’s peaceful nature in not attacking living creatures.  And of course there was this annual celebration.

I exited the pickup and walked down the road toward the festivities.  A banner hung over the square that announced the annual celebration.  Several bonfires blazed in metal barrels providing temporary warmth to the mortals who had to have been absolutely freezing on this frigid morning.  The sound of chainsaws filled the air as artists chipped their way through blocks of ice in an attempt to win the award for the best buzzard ice sculpture.  Vendor-filled tents lined the square offering all sorts of buzzard-related paraphernalia.  Temporary shuttle stops were placed on the four corners to pick up people and take them to the Buzzard’s Roost, the official location for the buzzard’s return located in the park.  Bird watchers camped out there for their chance to be the first person to spot the return of a buzzard and win a cash prize.  The air was cold, so much so that it smelled like an ice skating rink.  The coldness carried the fragrances of the fires, gas and oil from the chainsaws, hot chocolate and burnt marshmallows and something else.  The smell triggered a growl from my stomach and I darted behind Scavengers, as far away from all of the people as I could possibly get at the moment.

I squeezed myself between the building and a dumpster and inhaled deeply as I tried to control myself.  But it was of little help.  There were so many people here today that their scents hung in the air like potpourri and surrounded me like a warm, welcoming blanket.  My feet started to tingle.  “No, no, no,” I said to myself.  I couldn’t let this sensation overtake me; that would lead to trouble and I couldn’t let that happen here.  That would definitely attract a whole lot of unwanted attention that I couldn’t afford.  I patted down my coat hoping to magically find a flask or blood bag that I knew wasn’t there.  I laid my head against the cold, rusty dumpster to distract the evilness within me from what it wanted me to do.  My body began to shake like a junkie going through withdrawals.  I pulled up my jacket sleeve and dug my nails into my arm.  Flesh peeled back and blood surfaced.  I stooped down and took more breaths.

            “Are you okay?” a man asked.

            I lifted my head.  A young guy stood there, dressed in an unzipped hoodie, a dirty apron and checkered chef’s pants.  He pulled a cigarette from the pack in his hand and lit it.  He eyed me suspiciously, which I couldn’t fault him for; I could only imagine what I must look like.

            “Um no, not really,” I said.  “Trying to quit cold turkey, you know?”  I nodded toward his cigarette as I stood and pulled my jacket sleeve over my arm so that he couldn’t see my self-inflicted wound.  I held my breath so that his scent wouldn’t tempt me to do something that I really didn’t want to do right now.

            He took a drag and exhaled out of the side of his mouth.  “Your first day trying to quit?”

            I snickered.   “Yeah.”

“You don’t look so good.  Maybe you should try easing off of the ciggies instead of quitting all at once.  You want one?”  He held the pack out to me.

I eyed the pack knowing that I should take it from him to alleviate his suspicions but I feared that I wouldn’t be able to control myself if I got any closer to him.  And God forbid if I were to touch him, who knows what would happen. 

“I promise I won’t tell anyone.”

“I really shouldn’t.”

“Oh come on, there’s no sense in putting yourself through the torture.” 

He grabbed a cigarette and flicked it at me and then walked toward me with a lit lighter.

“You work at Scavengers?” I asked, trying to distract myself.  I put the cigarette in my mouth and puffed until it lit.

“Yeah.  A little crazy today with the festival going on.”

I took a deep draw, the embers of the cigarette glowing red hot, and blew the smoke out of my nose.  The smell of the cigarette temporarily blocked his scent; a distraction that I knew wouldn’t last long.  And if I wanted to spare this poor soul, I had to get out of here fast. 

“Well, listen.  I gotta go.”  I walked behind the dumpster, the farthest path away from the guy.  “Thanks, uh, what’s your name?”

“Brian.”

“Thanks, Brian, for the cigarette.”

“Good luck kicking your bad habit.”

I chuckled.  If he only knew the habit I was trying to kick.

I hope you enjoyed the back story on Buzzard Hill and learning a little something about my hometown. Please leave a comment about your town’s signature event.