Celestia Cox doesn’t wear shoes in 40-degree weather. And why would she? Barefoot is the way to go when you’re a cult leader with a bird skull for a head.
But when she’s walking the grounds of Hanover Vegetable Farm — home of Red Vein Army’s haunted house -- smearing people’s foreheads with the blood of the lambs, Cox isn’t the famous Richmond drag queen who performs 25 to 28 shows a month.
She’s a child of the Ashland witch, Emily Red Vein.
“It’s me creating this character,” Cox says about her job. “I literally have to be this person, have to be able to react and be in this character … [and think] ‘Do I have a physical ailment, is my foot broken?’”
It’s this dedication to her character — who she says frequently twitches and squawks — that’s earned her Gnomey, a golden gnome with a bottle opener for a hand. The prize represents the top actor of the night award and has spent the past week properly secured with a seatbelt in the passenger seat of her car.
Kitty Barnes, the chief operating officer of Red Vein, says it’s well-deserved, especially since Cox’s character is one of the most commented-on parts of the haunt.
“It’s not ‘I’m only going to do this until I’m comfortable,’” Barnes says of Cox’s acting. “It’s ‘I’m going to push the limits to make sure it’s the best.’”
This isn’t the first time Cox’s fallen into a method acting of sorts. Although this season marks her 10th year in the haunted industry, the fascination with horror and entertainment began in her backyard, where her family’s 140 acres became a haunted attraction every October.
She’d start creating visions for it all in June.
“The haunt community is like a whole different world that people don’t understand,” she says. “I tell people I work for a haunted house and they’ll be like, ‘It’s April.’”
Both of them emphasize that this is a year-round thing. Red Vein starts planning for the next horror season in November. It also hosts Women in Horror events in February, has a monthly movie and book club and in March, goes to a trade show in St. Louis for seminars on scare techniques, courses on makeup and special effects.
Cox calls it a comic convention for Halloween.
“Me being an entertainer and me being a drag queen, not everybody gets it, but the haunted community, I feel like, gets it,” she says. “Because we all have the weirdlike oddities about us.”
It’s a consistent celebration of inclusion among fellow haunt enthusiasts, Cox says. This year, Red Vein is working with Haunters against Hate, an organization formed after the Orlando, Florida, Pulse nightclub shooting that gives back to LGBTQ groups across the U.S.
For Barnes, it’s yet another opportunity to highlight the diversity and acceptance within the haunted community, where she says everyone has a home.
“In a way, it’s like we’re all the misfits,” Barnes says. “All you have to do is love what you’re doing. That’s all we ask.”
This partnership aligns with what Cox has dedicated her career to: challenging people to be kind. In recent months, she started Cox Cares, which supports other mental-health-based organizations in Richmond in addition to raising awareness and fundraising for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The celebration of inclusion and love within the community is one of Cox’s favorite parts of the job, especially since she’s able to make all her characters bend gender.
“Once you get thrown into that haunt setting, that element goes out of everybody’s head,” she says. “The only thing you’re worried about is what’s around the corner. You’re not worried about what I am or who I am or what I look like.”
But surprisingly, Cox doesn’t do gore, saying the closest she’ll get is being “it,” and she doesn’t mean Pennywise the Dancing Clown.
“As in Missy Elliot. Like is it worth it? Let me work it,” she sings devilishly.
“I turn my thing down flip it and reverse it.”
For information, visit redveinhaunt.com. $20 admission gets you into three haunted attractions but there are various ticket packages. 13580 Ashland Road.