A Haunted Hobby
Hobbies — everyone has them. From something as simple as reading books to a more complicated (and perhaps more bizarre) one like extreme ironing, there are many options out there for folks to enjoy their leisure time. It is rare, however, that hobbies, which enthusiasts can often invest so much of their passion, time and money into, create opportunities to help others.
As depicted in movies and television, the Ghostbusters put on their flight suits, strap on their proton packs and hop in the Ectomobile to rid the city of devious phantoms. Smiles can be seen on citizens as they cheer on their heroes after a job is finished.
In real life, the Louisiana Ghostbusters (LAGB) still gear up with their flight suits and proton packs and travel by Ectomobile; however, they don’t blast ghosts with streams. For them, the joy and appreciation come from different avenues: guest appearances at children’s hospitals, raising money for charitable organizations and other community efforts.
Houma native Cullen Diebold, a member of LAGB, calls himself a recent fan of the popular movie franchise, but as a kid, he loved playing “Luigi’s Mansion” — a Nintendo video game where players get to hunt ghosts. So, he took a liking to the ghost adventure concept.
“I saw [an Ectomobile replica] at a monster truck show and thought it was pretty cool,” Cullen remembers. “I’ve always loved emergency vehicles, and to see this ghost-catching emergency vehicle was interesting.”
In 2015, Cullen decided to transform his truck into a Ghostbuster vehicle to see how people would react to it. The then-18-year-old debuted his vehicle at the Rougarou Fest parade and later drove it around on Halloween, and he says the appearances were a “huge hit.”
“Then I decided to watch the movie. And from there, I was hooked,” shares Cullen, who also notes that for him, it is more the cosplaying as a Ghostbuster that he enjoys rather than the movies themselves.
He first encountered LAGB at a Krewe of Titans parade in 2013, when he saw them display one of their Ectomobile replicas. Cullen briefly talked with them at Comic Con New Orleans 2016 and later was invited to join the organization after meeting them again at a Relay for Life event.
“The cheap Halloween costume with the inflatable proton pack I had wasn’t going to cut it anymore,” Cullen laughs. “So I went ahead and decided to go for the realistic costume. I got a military flight suit, got a custom patch with my last name on it, got the Ghostbusters logo. I had my mom sew them on. And later that Halloween, I built myself a proton pack from wood and EVA foam.”
Attending roughly 12 events a year with LAGB prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cullen wanted a Ghostbuster vehicle that was easier to assemble, with his truck requiring a 30-minute setup as it’s unable to be driven on the interstate with all the attachments. He also wanted the vehicle that better mirrored the ones in the films.
Saving money with a plan to ship a car from out of state, Cullen just so happened to be scrolling through Facebook Marketplace one day when he discovered a 1990 Cadillac hearse for sale in Cut Off. Since buying the car in July, he’s put many hours into his passion project: installing the electrical writing, building the attachments, painting the red stripes, etc. His remodeled car is able to travel on the interstate with the add-ons, and he plans on taking the hearse, which is modeled after the Ecto-1a from “Ghostbusters 2,” to events this Halloween.
A charitable organization, the Louisiana Ghostbusters can be seen at birthday parties, parades and conventions, and the funds its members receive for attending such events go toward causes, one being the fight against cancer.
“It makes you a lot more passionate about what you do because it’s not like you’re building stuff just for yourself. You’re actually taking what you enjoy and using it to help others,” the local ghostbuster shares.
A man of faith, Cullen says he always knew that helping the poor is an important virtue of his religion, Catholicism, and his patron saint for confirmation was St. Nicholas — who was known for assisting the poor and sick.
“God works in mysterious ways,” he says. “I just happen to run into a way to take something I love and help people in need while doing it.”
LAGB also attends an autism rally in Baton Rouge every year. Even though he hasn’t been able to attend one with the group yet, it’s a cause Cullen can relate to.
Cullen was diagnosed with autism when he was 4 years old, which he shares comes across his mind a lot. “One thing my mom says is that I’ve really been able to overcome a lot of the obstacles, and I’ve definitely learned to control it a lot more,” he says. “There are still things I struggle with, but for the most part, I am doing better and able to just live a normal life.”
“One of the misconceptions is that [people on the spectrum] are incapable of making it in life,” says Cullen, who is working on becoming a licensed electrician to freelance in addition to his current job. “I’m proof that that’s false.” POV