- Associated Press - Saturday, October 25, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The sight of them in your neighborhood might seem like something strange, but the Columbus Ghostbusters attract more fanatics than phantoms.

Perhaps a few snickers, too.

They are, after all, adults who wear tan jumpsuits purchased on Amazon.com; built spook-snaring “proton packs” from plywood and plastic PVC piping; and drive a 2006 Dodge Magnum wagon equipped with a rooftop siren, flashing lights and an old familiar logo.

Back off, man. They’re impressionists.

“The film really made a mark on me, as you can tell,” said Jeff Tatarek, a Lancaster resident who in 2009 helped launch the group after meeting like-minded locals during a “Ghostbusters” event at Studio 35 in the Clintonville neighborhood.

Yes, the 43-year-old is aware that his hand-held “P.K.E. meter” - whose sensor lights detect paranormal energy - is only a licensed Mattel toy (but a collector’s item worth $350).

Ditto for the pedal-controlled ghost trap.

Yet the burdens of reality matter little to admirers who, much like the eager mimics, are ready to believe.

“Man, you guys are my childhood heroes!” exclaimed Mike Vogel, a 32-year-old visitor from Charlotte, North Carolina, who last Sunday encountered the Columbus Ghostbusters outside the ScareAtorium haunted attraction on Columbus’s north side.

As usual, photos and chitchat followed.

Do you really hunt ghosts?

Is this a full-time job?

And, of course: Who you gonna call?

With the 1984 landmark comedy celebrating its 30th anniversary, the central Ohio group has kept a busier schedule this year - including recent appearances at commemorative “Ghostbusters” screenings.

They also visit car dealerships, charitable functions and retailers along with the ScareAtorium, where they serve as greeters for family-friendly “lights on” tours.

The impersonators accept no payment for their cameos.

Costumed members strolled the North Market before a summer drive-in showing of “Ghostbusters” in the parking lot.

In May, Tatarek dressed up and drove the Dodge wagon (aka “Ecto Magnum”) to a Toledo Mud Hens game when the minor league team played host to a “Ghostbusters” night.

And, in a clear detour from a plotline in the 1989 film “Ghostbusters 2” - in which the washed-up on-screen foursome fails to impress a gathering of sour preteens - they were booked for a birthday party.

“That (irony) is not lost on us,” said 38-year-old Jamie Knapp of Columbus’s northwest side, a business analyst who last year joined the Columbus ranks along with wife Theresa, 36.

Theresa, a school intervention specialist, takes pride in extending the legacy: “As we get older, the true geeks have gotten into it.”

Also making the franchise topical was the confirmation this month of a new “Ghostbusters” film directed by Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”) and set to star an all-female cast. Ivan Reitman, who directed the original movies, will produce the forthcoming effort.

Dan Aykroyd has kept mum on his involvement, while Bill Murray, who created recent buzz by suggesting potential female leads, has said he has no plans to participate. Harold Ramis died in February.

Tatarek is lukewarm about the long-awaited project - and thinks other die-hard fans might be, too.

“I wish it weren’t a ‘reboot’; I wish it were a true sequel,” he said. “I’m open to the idea, but it really depends on how it’s written and who’s cast.”

Brian Onofrio, a Columbus Ghostbuster since June, remains loyal to the original movie.

The New Jersey native jokingly lamented childhood birthdays and Christmases with unfulfilled gift requests for the film’s trademark toys. As a student at Ohio University in Athens, he said, he explored spots around campus assumed to be haunted.

Not until the autoworker met the role-players at the North Market did his fandom escalate. His then- fiancee accepted the newfound commitment amid planning for their September wedding.

“She’s very tolerant,” said Onofrio, 37, of Russells Point, near Indian Lake.

Although their ranks have shifted through the years - membership has hovered near eight - the Columbus Ghostbusters aren’t alone. Similar tribute groups are active in Cleveland, Dayton and Toledo.

Appreciation, meanwhile, seems to know no age limit.

As rounds of families passed through the ScareAtorium, most parents (and some children) smiled at the sight of the uniformed peacekeepers.

Tatarek, whose proton-pack prop is autographed by “Ghostbusters” actor Ernie Hudson, went through his pre-tour spiel several times for young visitors.

The scene seemed nostalgic, kitschy, safe - even comforting.

“If the kids are lucky, their parents have shown the movie to them,” Tatarek said.

“If not, we just tell them: ‘We’re the good guys.’??”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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