Over the weekend, vampires were afoot in a small town on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Fans of a bestselling teen vampire romance series flooded into the town of Forks from all over the country.
They came from as far away as Australia to mark the 10th anniversary of the publication of the first book in the Twilight Saga, said Forks Chamber of Commerce executive director Lissy Andros. The love story and its fandom has injected new blood into the economy of a once hobbled logging town.
Novelist Stephenie Meyer settled her fictional vampire clan in northwest Washington based on an online search for the wettest place in America. Forks was her answer. Meyer lives in Arizona and never visited the two-stoplight town (population 3,688) before finishing the initial book.
An economic boom
Meyer’s description of a damp and dreary place doesn't seem that favorable for tourism. But it has inspired tens of thousands of pilgrims over the years, many of whom were greeted at the Forks Chamber of Commerce by Marcia Bingham, the former director there.
"It's been the best thing for Forks since rain,” Bingham said. “What a gift!”
And it’s a gift that keeps on giving. Twilight fans fill restaurants and motel beds and make cash registers ring at shops, offsetting the shrinking logging and timber mill industry.
"The economy has not been wonderful in Forks, but this has held on,” Bingham said. “And it will continue to, too."
Indicators such as visitor counts and lodging tax revenue rose sharply from 2005 to a peak in 2010. The tourism boom has waned some since, but remains at a level at least 50 percent higher than before Twilight.
Charlene Leppell remembers the moment when she knew something was up. It was around 2006 at the flower and gift shop she owns in Forks.
“Quite a few people were asking about ‘Twilight stuff,’" Leppell said. “I had better figure out what ‘Twilight’ meant. I actually got on the computer and Googled 'twilight.' It told me it was the time before dark.”
That seemed strange. Leppell confessed she’s not an avid reader. Then a friend clued her in to the runaway bestseller about a teenage girl who falls in love with a handsome vampire. Later it turns into a love triangle and werewolves appear.
The initial book turned into a series, then five blockbuster movies. Now, Leppell’s flower shop is mostly stocked with Twilight souvenirs. It even got a second name, Twilight Central.
“If it wasn’t for Twilight, my flower shop would not be in business,” Leppell said.
Mixed feelings among tribal members
Other places connected to the novels and movies share in the attention. Quileute tribal member Ann Penn-Charles put up posters to invite Twilight fans to a traditional salmon bake. She lives on the nearby Quileute reservation. That would be the same place portrayed in the novels as teeming with werewolves.
"It's not really the true story,” Penn-Charles said. “But some of our local vendors have benefited from it."
Penn-Charles said there are mixed feelings among tribal members about their literary fame. The novelist conjured the werewolves by re-imagining a legend about how the Quileute people could transform from animals.
"It's a touchy subject,” Penn-Charles said. “Our elders don't really appreciate the story and without permission changing our creators and our culture.”
‘It’s brought us really close together'
Twilight author Stephenie Meyer attended the 10th anniversary celebration to sign books, but she declined to speak with the media.
Megan Wright stood in line with her family and a suitcase of books to meet Meyer. Megan flew in from Orlando to join her mother and brother who came all the way from Hawaii.
"I think Twilight has definitely brought me and my mom together. We’ve become like best friends because of it,” Wright said suddenly choking up with emotion. “It's brought us really close together."
The Wrights and other Twilight fans said they fully expect to return to Forks in future years. The festival used to be called Stephenie Meyer Day. This year, it was renamed to "Forever Twilight in Forks.”
Savanna Vickers, who came from Independence, Oregon, said she spent months sewing an elaborate wedding dress for a costume contest.
"I figured it would die down a little after the final movie that came out,” Vickers said. “But no, we're keeping it alive and strong."
Vickers said she's made a pilgrimage to Forks annually since she was 17. She's now 22 years old.
"To me it's more like a family reunion more than anything,” she said. “With the love of Twilight."
Also making appearances at the Forks festival were actors Booboo Stewart, who played Quileute werewolf Seth Clearwater in the film versions of “Eclipse” and “Breaking Dawn,” and Erik Odom, who played the Southern nomad vampire Peter in “Breaking Dawn.”
Though set in Forks, none of the Twilight movies were actually filmed there. As is often the case with Hollywood movies set in the Pacific Northwest, the on-location filming was mostly done in British Columbia.