KEY WEST -- After working for a year on his elaborate Fantasy Fest costume — made with a Dollar Store serving tray, PVC pipes, a woman’s belt chain from the Salvation Army and 2,500 white ostrich feathers bought on eBay — Daniel Bitnar had one last task.
“I need to make it sparkle with Windex,” he said.
For Key West’s biggest celebration of the year, the usually mild-mannered manager of a Key West guesthouse will transform himself into a superhero. But not the usual comic book crime fighters Superman, Batman and Aquaman, “the kind of stuff I did as a kid.”
Bitnar, 54, will wear the one-of-a-kind creation to become a divine super hero, St. Michael the Archangel, who led God’s armies to victory over Satan in the war in heaven.
And even with thousands of other revelers dressed for the annual 10-day festival — the theme this year is “Super Heroes, Villains… & Beyond” — St. Michael will be easy to spot on Duval Street. His wings, with all those ostrich feathers, will span 18 feet when opened. And the 5-foot-10 Bitnar will become a towering 6-foot-4 with his glittering platform boots.
“Anything Daniel does really, really rocks,” said Virginia Wark, who works with Bitnar at the Pilot House. “He’s so meticulous. He can sit and spend hours putting a strand of tinsel down the spine of each feather.”
At the urging of Wark, Bitnar entered Fantasy Fest’s premiere costume competition, Pretenders in Paradise, for the first time in 2010. He won the individual amateur division in a glitzy white number as “Solaris God of all Predators.” In 2011, he entered as “Poseidon God of the Seas” with a skirt that flared into the eight legs of an octopus and won again.
Last year, he transformed a beach ball with a five-foot diameter into the world as part of his Atlas costume. He had spent two days working on a soundtrack to go with his two-minute, onstage performance in his quest to win Pretenders in Paradise for a third straight time. A local ABC affiliate came to his house to interview him. But the outer bands of Hurricane Sandy brought high winds and rain that led to the contest’s cancellation.
As the week went on, the weather got better and he wore his head-turning Atlas costume during Fantasy Fest’s world-renowned main event, the Captain Morgan Parade, which draws crowds of 30,000 plus. Video of him as Atlas was incorporated into a TV commercial promoting Key West by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council. And his picture with the world appeared in an airlines magazine that a flight attendant asked him to autograph.
This year, Pretenders in Paradise is canceled again, this time because the new owners of the Pier House did not want to continue its long-running sponsorship of the event, and because a replacement sponsor could not be found in time.
While Bitnar said he was extremely disappointed, it did nothing to dampen his spirits to make St. Michael the Archangel as spectacular as possible.
“It’s my therapy,” he said. “Some people sit in the bar and drink. Others play. I do costumes.”
Bitnar has always been creative. He got his masters degree in industrial designing at a school in Florence, Italy. For a project, he created a humongous street lamp that had movement, color and a heater to keep people warm in the winter.