Trying to describe what Halloween in New Paltz is like to someone who’s never seen it for themselves brings to mind lyrics from Circle of Life: “There’s more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done.” It’s packed enough that some events have been scheduled to start earlier in the week or month, and there’s still plenty of activities for on October 31 itself, even when it falls on a Monday.
Central to the celebrations is the popular parade, which is the longest-running tradition in the village, stretching back more than half a century. To see marchers lined up near the middle school, it wasn’t much to look at: the lead float, featuring a stereotypical witch caricature with a smoking cauldron, was nearly half its length, as those gathered didn’t even stretch from Main to Center streets. Once it kicks off to the strains of the Addams Family theme played by community band members, however, it grows faster than a zombie apocalypse. The view down Main Street is one of marchers — in costume and not — at least a thousand strong, but possibly in far greater numbers.
Village mayor Tim Rogers, sporting an oversized top hat symbolizing his office and hauling his costumed children on the bicycle which is part of his everyday identity, had a gleam in his eye that was evocative of the Halloweens he celebrated here himself as a child. “It’s the second-largest village Halloween parade in the Northeast,” he asserted. He may not be wrong, either, as many prominent parades do not take place in villages. Woodstock is a hamlet, Rutland, Vermont is a city and even Greenwich Village isn’t technically a village.
Each year the marchers head down Main Street, turn left onto Plattekill Avenue (the intersection of which serves as a de facto reviewing stand for hundreds of people), and arrive at the village’s main firehouse for apples and chocolate bars provided by members of the Lions Club, longtime sponsors of the event. That could change in the future, because fire station #1 will be moving from its central location as part of a series of upgrades funded through the NY Rising program.
Before the festivities, second assistant chief Dylan Babcock was acknowledging that moving to the intersection of North Putt Corners Road and Henry W. Dubois Drive will improve response times since firefighters won’t be as likely to be delayed driving to the firehouse, but he would miss the foot traffic they now see at all hours of the day. He speculated that rerouting the parade to head uptown and end at the new station #1 might be a possibility.
Rogers said that he doesn’t have a firm plan in mind yet, but “we will come up with a creative solution that shows even more Halloween spirit.”
Any alteration to the parade route would impact trick-or-treating patterns. They fan out along the parade route, some of them not even bothering to finish the march, and hit neighborhoods on either side of Main Street in a massive, costumed wave. Jacob, a longtime resident of North Oakwood Boulevard who came back to help his parents hand out candy, said that their treats budget is firmly into three digits. “One year we ran out really early,” he recalled; it was a Friday, and the weather was milder than usual. The only strategy at that point, he said, is to “turn out the lights, and hide.” If they’d lived even a block farther from the parade route, he said, the candy requirements would drop off to nearly nothing.
One event that has shifted neighborhood patterns is trick-or-treating on Huguenot Street, which is closed off from 4-6 p.m. to allow youngsters to collect at each of the historic buildings. According to marketing director Kaitlin Gallucci, estimates suggest that a thousand children visited this year, the third time the event has been held and first time they didn’t have to run out to resupply the candy bowls. That was thanks to the generous support of sponsoring organizations including Ulster Savings Bank, America’s Best, 1850 House and accountant Tom Fucito.
Huguenot Street resident Anne Quinn lives only a short distance away, and when asked if she saw spillover to her own front porch, she responded, “Gosh, yes! It’s happening here!” She lauded the safe, controlled environment provided by staff members of Historic Huguenot Street.
Just prior to the parade, for the second year in a row, was the Monster Sprint, a mile run in costume organized as a fundraiser for Family of New Paltz. According to organizer Jeff Weiss, 12 runners took up the challenge of running up and down Main Street in the 15 minutes ahead of the parade, with Joe Gentsch — appropriately dressed as the Flash — winning by “a lot.” Weiss said that they hope to get as many as 20 runners next year, but he expects to cap participation in the future because of the logistics of getting the finish line broken down before the march begins.
There are other events, too. At the Bakery is the popular Night of 100 Pumpkins, a carving contest with categories that vary depending upon what’s submitted. It should come as no surprise that many of this year’s entries were political in nature, but there were also plenty of humorous, scary and downright gross offerings as well. This reporter counted 164 pumpkins — six used in one entry alone — as well as a number of squash and even a couple of pineapples.
Uptown just a bit, the New Paltz Youth Program participants bedecked themselves in fake gore and practiced their most chilling screams for their annual haunted house, this time around using the theme of “the Blood Shed.” The entire house and back yard are transformed into what’s become the only traditional haunted attraction left in town.
Haunted Huguenot Street, which like the youth program event is also a fundraiser, is another popular event. Tours of the houses for three weekends leading up to Halloween focus on scary stories from the history of New Paltz. Gallucci said that the tours were almost entirely sold out, and encouraged anyone who missed out to register online next year.
Spillover happens all around the community. At Elting Memorial Library candy is not given out, but staff members are always prepared for spike in visitors once the parade-goers dissipate into the neighborhood. At the Quaker meeting house on North Manheim Boulevard, clerk Ed Seliger and his wife Anne Pomeroy handed out fair trade chocolate to costumed visitors. Pomeroy said that watching young eyes light up when they realize chocolate is a crop, and farmers can be paid differently for it, is a delight for her.
A scare of a different sort led to the cancellation of trick-or-treating on the SUNY New Paltz campus: several students there have contracted mumps, leading to that and other public events being curtailed. Perhaps the scariest moment witnessed by this reporter, however, was watching a car drive by, driven by someone wearing a lucha libre mask. Some sights make even the stoutest hearts quail.