Photos by Lauren Thomas
Common wisdom in New Paltz is that driving anywhere on Halloween is a bad idea, and this year was definitely no exception. Falling on a Saturday night, the treat-or-treat traffic was particularly dense and long-lasting near the village core. The pedestrians actually started to take back the streets much earlier, when Historic Huguenot Street was closed off for afternoon trick-or-treating at each of the landmark buildings, and many costumed characters roamed to the houses beyond. Main Street was shut down at 5:30 p.m. to make room for the first-ever Monster Sprint to benefit Family of New Paltz; this younger cousin of the Turkey Trot drew eleven competitors who raced from the firehouse to the middle school and back to P&G’s, some, like the victorious Captain America, in costume.
The parade itself was New Paltz Halloween at its finest. Looking down the hill towards the flats, Main Street was jammed from sidewalk to sidewalk right down to the hard right onto Plattekill, where apples and chocolate bars awaited in the firehouse. It is nearly impossible to be sure where the parade edge ends and the spectators begin, since there are just as many costumed characters on the sidelines, and plenty in plain clothes walking along with the other marchers. And even the line between costumed and not can be hard to spot, such as the woman whose getup was her street clothes and a sign that read, “Nudist on Strike!”
The costumes did not disappoint. Many were brilliant solo pieces, like a distressingly realistic Venom, carrying the head of Spider-Man, or the many versions of Donald Trump, played by high-schoolers and senior citizens alike. The group costumes were sometimes quite ornate, like the giant fish which had hooked three humans on lines, while others were old classics: the troop with a ghosts atop sticks always seems to make a comeback, while Dracula stopped every few strides to put the bite on his lady friend beneath his swooshing cape. Dogs, mostly small and many in costume, were everywhere along the route and in the parade. Even the police got into the fun: one of the cars they used to block traffic on a side street was dressed as a red Ford Fusion hybrid. That wasn’t the only law-and-order hidden beneath a mask, either: one skeletal figure turned out to be town justice James Bacon, running unopposed for reelection this year, and in a rare mood. “I judge Halloween a success,” he said, then added, “If only my opponent were here.”
At the firehouse, its garage emptied of equipment to welcome the thousands who followed the parade to its conclusion, volunteers from the Lions Club handed out apples donated by more than half a dozen local farms to meet the demand. The Lions have been running this parade for more than 60 years, but it’s only one of the club’s good works. They meet on the first and third Wednesday of every month in the Plaza Diner for a 9 a.m. breakfast, and they could use more hands to help in the work. Once the apples are distributed, however, the Lions’ role in Halloween recedes as countless trick-or-treaters fan out to nearby neighborhoods and businesses, with the youngest accompanied by parents and the middle- and high-schoolers venturing out in packs and herds, even as a few college-aged and older folks embrace the time-honored practice of demanding candy.
“It’s the best night of the year,” said Renee Fillette, who grew up in New Paltz and still loves Halloween here. Her house on South Oakwood Terrace is close enough to the fire house to be in the red zone, and she had friends from as far as Long Island there to help her hand out the goodies. “It’s like an open house.” She expected to have a thousand visitors to her door, and spent $200 on candy for them. She said that she relished the sense of community that descends upon the village for the holiday. “Whenever a new family or college kids move in, I try to warn them, but they are never prepared.”
That was true of Kara Dott and Jesse Walter, a few doors up the street, even though it was their second Halloween in the same location. “We ran out last year,” said Dott, “and we got several hundred pieces this year.”
“I’m not sure it’s going to be enough,” said Walter.
The problem for newcomers are the kids like Frankie Natoli, who at 12 is old enough to be out with friends, and young enough to hit up the houses at great speed. “My shoulder hurts,” he said, attributing it not only to the sheer number of doors he’d visited, but the quality of the haul: “I’ve gotten five whole Hershey bars,” he said.
Earlier in the evening, outside of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, volunteers were inviting people to carve pumpkins curbside. Tobias Anderson, pastor at the Redeemer Lutheran Church, gushed about how he’d just watched two elderly women try out the Halloween tradition for the first time in their lives. Anderson was there because the two churches were collaborating to celebrate the day together, with the carving station, hot cider and masses to celebrate this portion of the Christian liturgical calendar.
St. Andrew’s pastor, Robin James, said, “There is some dissension in the wider Christian community if Halloween celebrates evil,” but she considers it to be about resurrection, “as in the British Samhain, which is a festival of the death of summer. It has elements of cultural spirituality.”
A few doors up and across, the Church of the Eternal Circle, a Wiccan denomination, held its Samhain services the night before. “In the Welsh, it’s called Calengaef,” said Anton Stewart, a priest of the church and owner of the Awareness Shop, behind which it meets. The Celtic calendar, like the Jewish, marks days starting with sunset, and thus the new year celebration took place on Friday night. “Our thoughts turn inwards, as traditionally we would be deciding which animals we can keep and which we use to survive. They also turn to our ancestors, and we honor them at this time of year,” by doing such things as tending to forgotten graves.
As the darkness thickened and the streets began to clear, slightly older kids lurked in the shadows, daring those few who had eggs or shaving cream to do their worst. “Yo, there’s someone in a tree!” one called in alarm to his compatriots.
Darkness also signaled a shift in tone elsewhere. On Huguenot Street, the swarms of bright toddlers collecting candy from historic houses (not to mention from the zombie who was roaming about, flipping the script and emptying his bag into the hands of passersby) had been replaced by the tours of Haunted Huguenot Street, which always feature chilling tales that are rooted in fact. The campfire which provided a pleasant atmosphere in daylight became a shelter from the unknown once darkness fell, as people crowd close against the night and listened to scary stories. Up the road a bit, the Unframed Artists’ Gallery gave one last chance to show off costumes with a Halloween dance party.
Just across North Chestnut Street, darkness made the 25th annual Night of 100 Pumpkins at The Bakery into a light show extraordinaire. According to owner David Santner, the contest had 172 entries this year from adults, children and employees, who had a chance to win a day off from the job, while the others had to settle for gift certificates donated by other local businesses, in amounts up to $100 each.
New Paltz Police Chief Joe Snyder, sporting the first whiskers of No-Shave November a bit early, said, “This is why I do this job: for fun days like this.” While vandalism can be a concern, particularly for a weekend Halloween, the Village Board did pass a curfew, which is believed to keep such shenanigans in check. With any luck, the damage was no worse than a few kids getting covered with shaving cream.
Handing out candy in front of the Quaker Meeting House, Noah Pomerselig observed that Halloween “is all about community. People talking to each other, not hating each other, and sitting on front porches.” His observations may describe the magic which is a New Paltz Halloween better than any.