Save Our City: Black Drop Coffeehouse’s 5th Annual Zombie Event Grows Larger Every Year

save our city
Photo credit: Thom Davis


save our city
Photo credit: Grace Dexter Jones

Imagine a massive downtown water balloon fight. Sounds fun, right? Now throw in hundreds of balloon tossers decked out as zombies, and it gets downright crazy. (Crazy awesome, that is.)

It’s all part of the Black Drop Coffeehouse’s Save Our City: Zombies vs. Survivors V – the popular Maritime Heritage Park-based event that grows bigger each year.

The idea originally came to Black Drop Coffeehouse co-owner Stephanie Oppelaar in 2010. She was looking for something to replace the Peepfest event that the shop’s original owners, Teri Bryant and Alexarc Mastema, had thrown in the past (Imagine an eating contest involving ingesting copious amounts of delicious marshmallow Peeps, which ends in, well, a most unsavory way.)

“We were looking for something that was a spectacle and fun to participate in – that didn’t involve vomit,” Oppelaar says with a laugh.

She liked the idea of a water balloon fight – another event Bryant and Mastema once put on – but she envisioned it as tag with a twist: Zombies!

The first Save Our City event was fun, if a bit chaotic. Twenty zombies (wearing bright orange armbands) left the home base and safe zone of the steps at Maritime Heritage Park, pursued by a crowd of balloon-wielding “survivors” (designated by vivid green armbands).

save our city
Photo credit: Grace Dexter Jones

The object of the game is simple: Survivors, equipped with four water balloons each, search out zombies within a designated “zombie containment zone” in the downtown area.

If a zombie is hit by a water balloon, they must “freeze” for 60 seconds, allowing the survivor a chance to escape. If a zombie touches a survivor before being hit by a water balloon, the survivor returns to home base and changes their green armband to orange; they are now also a zombie and re-join the game to try and “infect” remaining survivors.

When survivors run out of wet weaponry, they must return to the safe zone to re-up their ammo.

Within five minutes of the inaugural event’s start, everybody was a zombie. A wet zombie.

“We just gave up on having tag, threw all the water balloons into the middle of the park, and had a giant free-for-all,” says Oppelaar. “It was really fun. Afterward, we said, let’s do it again next year, make it even bigger, and define the rules a bit more.”

The game as it’s played now starts with a much smaller number of zombies initially released.

“Even if you come dressed as a zombie, you won’t start as a zombie,” Oppelaar explains. “But eventually you will be; it’s just going to happen.”

save our city
Photo credit: Madeleine Easton

“We have one family who every year goes all out – the dad, the twins, their younger kid – with full-on prosthetic makeup, scary-looking zombies,” says Oppelaar. “We usually send them out first.”

The first small group of zombies is given a five-minute start, and then the survivors are set loose.

Last year, Black Drop organizers added an objective-based team element, with slightly different rules and the necessity to visit sponsors’ storefronts – or “safe houses” – to pick up a picture of an item needed to escape a zombie apocalypse.

The winning team collects all the items and brings them to a designated area known as the helicopter lift-off point. Prizes are given for first-, second- and third-place teams.

Some participants go all out and dress up in elaborate zombie-themed costumes. “We had one person show up like the grim reaper,” says Oppelaar. “And we had a local chef show up in a gross chef costume with blood all over it and a fake eyeball coming out of his cheek.”

Others come just to watch Save Our City unfold. Many of those folks, Oppelaar says, decide to take advantage of free zombie makeup offered on-site, and eventually jump into the fray, as well.

save our city
Photo credit: Thom Davis

“We have a table set up with volunteers who will do quick, on-the-fly zombie makeup,” she says. “That usually involves talcum powder or corn starch to make their face really white, some fake blood, and then dark eye shadow around their eyes.”

Participants can just show up on the day of the free event to register and sign a waiver, but online forms are available, which can be printed and filled out ahead of time, simplifying the process.

Links for general and team rules and registration are available at the Black Drop Coffeehouse website and the Facebook event page.

Rules clearly state that participants must only throw water balloons at those wearing event armbands. No civilians – non-zombies, non-survivors – are to ever be hit with even a droplet of water.

“We’d like to be able to continue doing this event, so we always ask everybody to not be jerks,” Oppelaar says, laughing.

Last year saw 225 participants – including the event’s youngest registrant yet, at two years old.

With the number of battling survivors and zombies increasing each year, the amount of water balloons needed also grows. The first year, Oppelaar and her Black Drop crew filled 1,400 balloons; this year they’re planning on 3,000.

save our city
Photo credit: Thom Davis

“We’re looking for volunteers to help,” Oppelaar says. Last year, with 12 people on hand, it took six hours to fill 2,400 balloons.

Event sponsors and area businesses supply coupons and other goodies for prizes. The first 150 people to arrive receive grab bags.

This year’s event is co-sponsored by the City of Bellingham Parks & Recreation Department. Additional sponsors include Fiamma Burger, The Shakedown, Seatthole Shirts, The Bureau of Historical Investigation, Modsock, Dakota Art, and Merrillee D. Photography, who will have a photo booth set up to take professional pictures.

Save Our City: Zombies vs. Survivors is a lighthearted community event – one that garners a lot of attention for the Black Drop Coffeehouse.

“It lets people know where we are, and really says kind of who we are, which is that we’re offbeat, we’re funny,” says Oppelaar. “We take our coffee seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously.”

“And we really want to see people involved and interacting with each other in their community,” she says. “I mean, who doesn’t want to throw water balloons?”

This year’s Save Our City takes place on Saturday May 31 from 12:00pm to 3:00pm at Maritime Heritage Park.

For more information, visit


Save Our City V: Zombies vs. Survivors!

Saturday, May 31 from 12:00pm to 3:00pm

Bellingham’s Maritime Heritage Park


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