New York Village Halloween Parade returns: NPR
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Many municipalities across the country have allowed large-scale Halloween gatherings this year, having banned them in 2020 as a public health precaution caused by the pandemic. It is likely that nowhere is this greeted with so much enthusiasm as in New York, where the Village Halloween Parade is one of the city’s most important and colorful cultural events of the year. Described as New York’s version of carnival, the parade provides a major economic boost to Lower Manhattan each year.
Until last year, the only other time the Village Halloween Parade was canceled was in 2012, when it had to be scrapped following the devastation of Superstorm Sandy. Even the 9/11 terrorist attacks didn’t stop the costumed marchers from walking up Sixth Avenue just seven weeks later.
While covering this parade, I was reminded that you never know who will show up. I couldn’t help but notice a Brooklynite walking with his pet goat, which was completely covered in MetroCards, the wallet-sized plastic passes New Yorkers use to get into the Metro.
“It’s MetroGoat,” the Brooklynite told me, “and I’m MetroMan: able to jump over a turnstile in one bound!
It remains to be seen if any goats will sabotage it this year when the parade leaves in Soho on Sunday evening, heading to Chelsea, a few blocks north of Greenwich Village. But the 1959 Cadillac ambulance used in the movie ghost hunters – alias L’Ectomobile – will equip the avenue, as well as 10 taxis dressed to resemble it. As in years past, there will be giant puppets, marching bands, floats and thousands of costumed marchers.
Courtesy of the Village Halloween Parade
Jeanne Fleming, artistic director of the parade for 40 years, only learned that this year’s event was taking place in mid-September. “I had no idea,” said Fleming. “Like everyone else, we were waiting to hear what is happening with COVID, which is possible.”
When city officials gave the green light, Fleming rushed to find sponsors and launched a crowdfunding campaign. Less than 200 people contributed barely $ 10,000 – an amount that disappointed Fleming, given the large number of people attending the parade. At the end of September, she sent an email warning that unless she could raise $ 150,000, the parade would be canceled.
And then, a 54-year-old financial advisor, who has attended the parade since he was a teenager, made a tax-deductible donation of $ 150,000, saving the parade.
“I was just trying to do something good for the city I love,” says Manhattan resident Jason Feldman. “I hope it’s a big turnout and hopefully a lot of spectators.”
In early October, Feldman made the two-hour drive north to Rokeby, the historic 300-acre estate in Red Hook, NY, where Fleming lives and produces the parade. Located along rolling hills next to the Hudson River, Rokeby is also where some of the parade’s giant puppets are created. A Buddhist monk who lives on the estate lends Feldman a monk’s robe to wear as he walks alongside Fleming in front of the parade.
Fleming jokes that the financial adviser could have disguised himself as a knight in shining armor. But Tai Chi practitioner Feldman goes for the Zen look, which includes sandals and a stick.
Each October, volunteers, many from New York City, arrive on weekends to help build giant puppets in what is now known as Puppet Farm. Part of the work is being done on the estate in an old dairy barn with a 30 foot ceiling. The theme of the parade this year is Let’s play dedicated to the kids of New York who didn’t have a real Halloween last year. The giant puppets are based on drawings submitted by children.
Courtesy of the Village Halloween Parade
Patricia Valdez, who drove to Rokeby from her Harlem home, was busy one recent weekend with a glue gun in her hand building part of a cardboard puppet. Valdez has been going to the Puppet Farm in Rokeby since 2016 and also participates in the parade, carrying one of the giant puppets.
“I love being a part of something creative and I love that it comes back into the community,” she says. “When you’re in the parade, you see smiling faces, you see awe. And how can you not feel good knowing that you have something to do with it?”
The parade’s COVID precautions this year are twofold. Walkers have been asked to wear medical masks while they wait in the staging area, but may take them off once they begin the mile-long march through the city center. Onlookers along what is typically a crowded Sixth Avenue are urged to wear masks, as social distancing is inherently impossible. Many spectators wear costumes, often including a non-medical mask. In recent years, more than two million parade watchers have blocked the sidewalk along the parade route.
“One of my favorite puppeteers isn’t coming because she doesn’t feel safe,” Fleming notes. “The others are not affected at all.” Attitudes, she notes, run “the gamut of everything the nation feels.”
Fleming said she decided to select comedian Randy Rainbow as this year’s Grand Marshal because his song parodies on YouTube made the nation laugh throughout the pandemic. Fleming admits the satirist scored some important points when he was released “Mr. Biden,” a video parody of “Mr. Sandman” including lines such as:
Mr. Biden, bring my vaccine
I want to cheat or spoil when it comes to Halloween.
Rainbow, decked out in a specially designed rainbow coat and signature rose-colored glasses, will ride with six dancers on a float designed by Richard Prowse, a retired Broadway decorator.
Feldman calls the parade “the best medicine for our city”.
“People become themselves, perhaps the most extreme versions of themselves, wherever their imaginations lead them to a version of themselves,” he says. “They don’t judge, they don’t expect to be judged. And that’s indicative of what makes our city such a wonderful place.”
Fleming adds, “It’s the night when people can go out and tell their stories, whatever their story is. That’s the role she plays. Can you imagine two years locking us up, without having that night of? Party ?”
It would be pretty scary, indeed.