Sometimes the best ideas are born from tragedy.
Just months after Janie Mayer lost her mom, Paula Stringfellow Ford, to a rare form of lung cancer in April 2013, she was riding bikes with her friend Daphne Dickinson when she decided she wanted to do something to honor her mom. “I told Daphne that my mom wouldn’t want me to be sad, she would want me to do something fun,” Mayer recalls. “She loved a good party. If it was fun, she was doing it.”
Mayer’s parents retired to Grayton Beach, Florida, where her mom joined a group of women who started the Witches of South Walton. At Halloween, the group dressed up like witches, decorated their bikes, and rode to raise money for school kids in the area. “They rode through the school grounds on their bikes and then went and had a champagne brunch,” Mayer laughs.
With the Witches of South Walton as their inspiration, Mayer and Dickinson set out to plan their own fundraiser witches ride in Homewood to benefit the American Cancer Society. Dickinson mapped out a quick route, Mayer publicized it on her personal Facebook page, and they called friends to have their kids out on the day of the ride (“so we’d have someone to throw candy to”) or participate in the ride itself. On October 30, 2013, just six months after Mayer’s mom’s passing, the first official ride took flight from the parking lot of the Studio on Linden (where Janie was working on her jewelry line, Inspirations by Janie, at the time). “We showed up in front of the Studio, and we couldn’t believe that almost 50 people showed up,” Mayer remembers. “We didn’t even call the police to let them know because we really didn’t think we’d need to,” Dickinson adds.
With the experience of the first ride under their belts, Mayer and Dickinson committed to growing the event. In the ride’s second year, it was officially dubbed the Homewood Witches Ride, and the Homewood Police Department was alerted and became an important partner ensuring rider safety and that the ride goes off without a hitch. “The third year, we realized we could no longer fit in the Studio parking lot, so we moved to Homewood Central Park,” Dickinson says.
Fast forward to October 2017—the 5th Homewood Witches Ride—and almost 600 witches took to the streets of Homewood. Also last year, the Homewood Parks & Recreation Department moved their popular Fall Festival event to the same day as the Witches Ride to create a full day of fall festivities. “Homewood Parks has been so generous to us,” Dickinson says. “They have been awesome.” The Fall Festival is held during the day in Central Park, and once evening rolls around, the Witches take over with Coach/DJ Steve Sills pumping up the crowd before the ride starts.
“These girls get into it,” Mayer says. Riders often create groups and dress in similar costumes. There are also raucous pre-parties with makeup artists and stylists to get groups ride ready. Awards are given for best costume, best broom (bike decorations), best group, best overall witch, and more. Little Donkey hosts the official after party.
The route is now 2.5 miles long and travels through the heart of the Edgewood neighborhood with two designated candy zones on Roseland Drive and Parkridge Drive. There are corporate sponsors and merchandise including yard signs, t-shirts, car stickers, and more. And while the name is the Homewood Witches Ride, Mayer stresses that everyone is welcome, no matter where they live. Last year, two women traveled from North Carolina hauling their bikes in a rented van. “They stayed for several days after the ride just to enjoy Homewood,” Dickinson says.
The Homewood Witches Ride is held annually on the Sunday before Halloween. The date for this year’s ride is October 28, with registration opening online at homewoodwitchesride.org on October 1st. It costs $25 per witch to ride, and in the Ride’s five years, $66,000 has been raised for the American Cancer Society—with $34,000 raised last year alone.
“There’s such a sense of community,” Dickinson says. “All these women have a great time, and their families come out to support us.” Mayer adds, “It’s not about us anymore. We are amazed at how the riders have embraced it, and it’s amazing to see the lineup with the witches going on and on.” Janie’s father always comes and plays an integral part in kicking off the ride. “He’s astounded by it,” Mayer says.
Dickinson concludes, “We know when we’re out there that Janie’s mom is with us, and she would just eat this up.”