The New Paltz Halloween parade is a tradition going back to the middle of last century — it has been secured to the bedrock of the community. And this year’s balmy temperatures contributed to a thoroughly-festive atmosphere.
This is one of only two parades for which police time is put into the annual town budget, and even in a year when demolishing day care centers is being suggested to cut spending, no elected official has suggested changing that arrangement. In a town where for every three residents there are five opinions, Halloween brings community members together in a way that is unrivaled by any other event.
Given its position in the calendar along with its costumed character, Halloween is a natural time for political expression. In fact, sales of candidate masks in presidential years have served as an unerring predictor of that race’s outcome since 1980. While Americans are traditionally less likely to vote in years like this, when the top races are congressional, there was still evidence of politics during these festivities. New Paltz Deputy Mayor KT Tobin dressed as a weeping Libertas, the goddess which inspired the famous Statue of Liberty, and Uncle Sam handed out candy along with a request to boycott a local pizzeria, apparently in an attempt to extend controversy over a mural of the American flag.
Village resident Mary Furey kept her own political expression more neutral: a sign in her yard encouraged passersby to vote, and she was expecting many passersby. “I have 20 pounds of candy,” she said. “I just ordered pizza, and I have a glass of wine. There’s never any candy left. This year I made a ‘no more candy’ sign.”
Many other Halloween activities happen around town, but it’s the parade which dictates where the trick-or-treaters go in numbers. Furey and her neighbors on Plattekill, Oakwood, Center and other streets near the firehouse get hundreds of visitors Halloween night, even more in years when it’s on a weekend. The line of demarcation is stark and anyone living outside of it may only get two or three knocks on the door all night long.
They knock on doors, and they also visit businesses and institutions. Jessica, at Elting Memorial Library, handed out candy with a smile while recalling the year when they ran out of candy and resorted to giving away children’s books which were not destined for the stacks. “The kids were ecstatic,” she said. No doubt parents likewise love the fact that there is a bathroom available just inside the door.
Nearby on Church Street, Commissary proprietor Lagusta Yearwood gave away product from her other business, Lagusta’s Luscious chocolate shop. Up on Main Street, Bruce Kazan stood outside the Main Course — which provided an excellent view of the parade for diners there — serving up cups of hot chocolate for the kids and something special for those who were not that young. That’s only fair, since the much-beloved Hershey bars handed out by Lions Club volunteers at the firehouse only went to the youngest, with the rest receiving local apples. The produce is generously donated from orchards every year, and this year the chocolate bars which club members usually purchase themselves, were also donated in response to a call for help.
The costumes included everything from the classic to the obscure. No Halloween parade would be complete without a group of people running in circles, carrying ghosts on sticks and crying “wooooooo” as they haunted one and all. Other costumes were fit into tighter niches: Allie and Kevin were dressed as “guilty remnants” from Leftovers, while Jade Wesdorp and Hadley Taylor were a snowboarder and a llama-carrying, balloon-borne character from the game Alto’s Adventure. Kree warriors rubbed elbows with Beetlejuice, and serial-killer skateboarders weaved between marchers and through town. Elsewhere, a man carried his own head and another was being carried away by an alien.
Marching in the parade is always a fluid affair, with bystanders joining in and walkers ducking out to grab treats or admire friends’ outfits. Depending on where one was, the live music was likely to be one of two themes, from the Addams Family or Ghostbusters.
One comment heard on the street might capture the sense of mystery and oddity in a single question: “Was it a live cow, or a fake cow?” One had to be there to be sure.