As has been described, Villisca’s Ax Murder House draws hundreds of people to the community each month. Additionally, alumni come back to town for Heritage Days in the summer, and several other events that draw people to town are held throughout the year. Up to this point, however, the community has not developed a comprehensive strategy to leverage its assets – chiefly the Ax Murder House – and bring more people into town, which ultimately will help the local economy and quality of life.

With a history as rich as ours, it makes sense that we have a whole host of museums and attractions. What will you explore?

Source: Salem Attractions: Witch Trials

It is understandable that some community members are hesitant to capitalize on such a tragic event. However, the Ax Murder House already does exactly that, commanding $428 for overnight visits for groups from 1 to 6 people and another $75 for each person beyond that. Villisca is known nationally for the Ax Murder House, and it is time for the community to embrace that horrific event and transform it into a positive.

To overcome this, community leaders must work alongside school district leaders to forge ahead together. Community leaders see the need to build a child care center but understand the enormous costs associated with new construction. Fortunately, Villisca has numerous buildings that are centrally located and are ripe for redevelopment. While a number of buildings could be renovated for a daycare, the best option for the community is to locate a couple of dedicated daycare rooms in the school.

It is also recommended that the community move Heritage Days to October, either the first or last weekend of the month, to capture a larger audience and build the audience for Axtober. Attendance at Heritage Days has declined in recent years, and making it part of a larger series of programming provides the chance to reinvigorate the community celebration while simultaneously introducing more people to Villisca.

Fat tire biking is the latest in hot outdoor experiences. With their 3.7” to 5″ wide tires, fat tire bikes are equipped to handle sand, snow, and gravel. They thrive where other bikes fail and offer people a new experience on a favorite pastime.

The fat tire ride should begin and end at the square. It should head east out of town and then, depending on expected turn out, offer one or two routes of differing distances to accommodate a mix of riders.

Axtober Fat Tire Ride Map

Organizers should take advantage of the ride terminating at the square and transition the ride to a community celebration. A band should be brought in to play, food trucks should be secured, and Rolling Taps Beer Coe should be brought into town.

Rolling Taps requires a minimum guarantee of $1,800, which includes 3 kegs of the organizers’ choice, certified staff, bar setup and teardown, their vintage truck, insurance, and liquor license. The company also takes care of off duty police officers if required. With nearly 500 pours in the kegs at $6 each, the profit from the beer ($2,970) would more than cover the fee for the truck, meaning organizers would not be charged for anything. To date, Rolling Taps has exceeded the minimum spend at all of their events.

Rolling Taps

Alternatively, reach out to New Belgium Brewing and see if they would consider sponsoring the ride and community celebration. Given their Fat Tire Amber Ale and Villisca’s unique history, this partnership may be appealing to New Belgium.

The last weekend of Axtober should put the exclamation point on the month. During the day, a community costume parade should bring residents of all ages downtown to celebrate Halloween. This will result in two big wins: Young people experiencing strong social connections in town and local businesses seeing an influx of visitors.

In the evening, a costume ball should function as a fundraiser for a different project each year. The costume ball should have a unique theme from year to year to keep things interesting and to ensure people continue to come back year after year. Each year’s theme should relate to the projects the funds will support that year. For instance, if the funds raised will support community beautification efforts, the theme could be 1960s flower power, whereas the support of a building restoration project could tie to an old Hollywood glamour theme. This fresh take each year also will help the costume ball build a strong reputation and extend its reach beyond Villisca and even Montgomery County.

Costume Ball Budget

Item Quantity Cost per Unit Total
Building Rental 1 $ $
Decorations 1 $1,500 $1,500
Food 50 $20 $1,000
Drink 50 $12 $600
 Expenses Total $3,100
Item Quantity Cost per Unit Total
Sponsorship 1 $4,000 $4,000
Sponsorship 3 $2,500 $7,500
Sponsorship 5 $1,000 $5,000
Ticket Sales 50 $40 $2,000
Income Total $18,500
Revenue $15,400

The second weekend of Axtober should cater to movie buffs and those beginning to get in the spirit of the season. The day should include a variety of seasonally-themed screenings. Movies shown earlier in the day should be kid-friendly, and the movies should get progressively scarier as the day goes on.

Host the screenings in a vacant (or partially vacant) building on the square to elevate the experience and add to the draw. There are no similar events in the area, so Villisca can draw people from a broader area and introduce people to the community in another way.

Work to secure sponsors for the event and charge a small entry fee. Find a willing building owner that will donate use of their building, and seek out an individual funder or grant to cover licensing for the films; these fees typically range from $250 to $600 depending on the studio, film, and event date.

Suggested Films:

  • Monsters, Inc. (G – 92 minutes)
  • Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (G – 95 minutes)
  • Casper (PG – 110 minutes)
  • Ernest Scared Stupid (PG – 92 minutes)
  • Ghostbusters (PG – 107 minutes)
  • Hocus Pocus (PG – 96 minutes)
  • It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (PG – 25 minutes)
  • Nightmare Before Christmas (PG – 76 minutes)
  • Addams Family (PG-13 – 110 minutes)
  • Monster Squad (PG-13 – 82 minutes)
  • Sixth Sense (PG-13 – 130 minutes)
  • Scream (R – 111 minutes)
  • Sleepy Hollow (R – 105 minutes)

The third weekend of Axtober should aim to draw people with yet another interest – the paranormal – to Villisca. The community should put together a paranormal summit working with one of the many paranormal societies in Iowa. There also is the opportunity to partner with the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s paranormal society. Event organizers should use the following framework as a starting point to plan the summit:

  • Witness testimony
  • Certified investigators
  • Case studies
  • The science of the paranormal

Organizers should put the event together in collaboration with the Ax Murder House. While there is hesitation from those involved with the House to participate in an event dubbed “Axtober,” the summit has the potential to increase the number of visitors to the House and community even more and spread the economic impact across all of Villisca.


Team Up


Establish Axtober leadership team


Steering committee


Using steering committee as a starting point, identify key doers in the community to take the Axtober concept laid out in this strategy and bring it to life. Establish an overall team and assign leadership roles within this group for each weekend; if the event is everybody’s job, it’s no one’s job.


Q1 2019



Plan inaugural Axtober


Axtober leadership team


With the aforementioned framework in place, establish a schedule for regular check-in calls and/or meetings as well as key milestones to ensure Axtober events are executed as envisioned. Bring in key community and regional partners with appropriate expertise. Understand that the programming will grow and evolve over the years, so be ready to adapt; a key to success will be fostering an inclusive planning process that responds to new ideas.


Q2 2019



Promote Axtober


Axtober leadership team


As plans are firmed up, promote, promote, promote! Participate in radio and newspaper interviews, develop a website, and use multiple social media channels. Launch an Axtober Ambassadors campaign in which organizers share pre-developed content with Ambassadors to make it easy to share a consistent message across the community. Develop a hashtag (e.g., #axtober2019) for Ambassadors and attendees to use as well.


Q3 2019

Axtober Ambassadors

The Axtober leadership team should arm Axtober Ambassadors with messaging and images to share on their respective social media channels. Build a database of existing contacts to begin and then grow the list from there. People will be more likely to share a message that is pre-written for them rather than having to develop content on their own. Make sure to include the #axtober2019 hashtag with all of these posts.

How to Build a Social Media Ambassador Program: Sixty-six percent of people around the world say they trust earned media — including recommendations from friends, family and online reviews — above all other forms of advertising. Consumer brands and nonprofits are harnessing the power of social media ambassadors to build excitement and spread the word about new products or initiatives. Social ambassadors can help raise brand awareness, drive website traffic, generate sales or donations, and grow brand communities. Unlocking the power of social media ambassadors is essential to meeting your digital marketing and business goals.

Source: Social Factor

Babson College: The Social Media Ambassadors provide key insights into life at Babson and tell true Babson stories—appreciated by the entire community.

Source: Babson Social Media Ambassadora

University of Virginia Darden School of Business: The Social Media Ambassador Program is an easy way for alumni to help share the amazing accomplishments and news coming out of Darden. We curate “social-sized” snippets from the best news from Darden and share them in monthly emails. All you have to do is copy and share them on the social channel of your choice.

Source: Darden SOB Social Media Ambassadora