Dressing for Halloween in New Paltz carries a certain amount of pressure: it’s a big deal in town, with a giant parade sending participants out like tentacles to probe the nooks and crannies of the community in costumes ranging from the comical to the creepy. Selecting a costume when there’s going to be a big audience is tricky, but trying to predict how to dress with bad weather expected added an extra wrinkle this year around.
Masks proved to be a particular challenge as temperatures climbed to 70 degrees leading up to the parade, with the air damp as a well-soaked sponge. Dressed as the video game character Cuphead, Ethan Sonneberg’s face was framed by the character’s head and reddened as it tried to compensate for the warm, wet air. The Mountain Laurel student said he liked looking at other costumes best, but many of those wandering from one Main Street business to the next ahead of the parade only put on the mask for the reveal at each door. One such suffered was Nick Drewnowski, dressed in a stereotypical gorilla suit and loathe to put on its head. “It’s really hot and sweaty,” he confirmed.
There were strategies which clearly were winners. A Wonder Woman costume seemed much more comfortable in the balmy air, and its wearer (Monika Barrese) also carried a star-spangled umbrella to ward off the rain as surely as her namesake deflects bullets. Her son Andrew, dressed as an unspecified 1970s rock drummer, was kept cool with a t-shirt and possibly dry thanks to his rocker wig.
Air thick with the promise of rain came through just in time for the parade itself, which nevertheless seemed to have three or four hundred marchers in addition to spectators, most of whom huddled in the scant shelter of Main Street buildings. The parade’s management was formally turned over from the Lions to the Rotarians this year, closing a chapter which began sometime in the 1950s or ’60s and hopefully beginning one just as long and dark. Rotary members managed the foot traffic through the firehouse skillfully, doling out full-sized Hershey bars and locally-grown and donated apples at the parade’s end point. Next year a new firehouse will be built, and thereafter the space on Plattekill Avenue will change in ways which are not yet clear. While there’s not yet any official answer on how this will impact the Halloween parade route, one elected official this year said that an idea was being floated.
Winning the “most obvious costume” award was five-year-old Aslan, who was dressed as a lion and charming candy out of the volunteers on Huguenot Street, where rumor has it the treats didn’t last the full two hours. While this was not confirmed, in years past, staff members there have spoken about the tremendous popularity of the trick-or-treating event there and the need for additional candy donations to make the community event more sweet. No matter how much candy was available, parents clearly enjoyed taking smaller children to the event in the pedestrian-only historic neighborhood, often lining them up against stone walls in an eerie harbinger of driver’s license photos yet to come.
Costumes are the eye candy, but most ghouls on the street were there for the real candy. Asked what their favorite part of Halloween is as part of a wholly unscientific survey, close to nine of ten youngsters offered candy as their top choice, even when prompted otherwise. “Don’t say candy,” one mother suggested, eliciting “Candy!” as the response. Ten-year-old Zoey, dressed as a scary version of the roller-derby player she is in real life, wholeheartedly agreed. Griffin Bacon (Rich Uncle Pennybags) said it so fast it’s not clear his brain was even consulted, or if his tongue just took charge. Malcolm Dillehay (a phantom), Dylan Friedle (Purge), Matthew Burbato (Luke Skywalker) and James Rogers (zombie swamp monster) also didn’t think twice.
A few of the pint-sized set had different priorities. Henry, sporting a detailed Peter Pan costume on his three-foot frame, thought of costumes first but added trick-or-treating soon after. Rafi Rogers, crammed into a bunned hot dog covered with mustard, had the same two thoughts, albeit in the opposite order. Three skeletal brothers each listed as their favorites some of main highlights of the New Paltz experience: Chris said, “greeting people in costume and candy,” Thomas enjoyed getting his face painted and the parade, and Henry unambiguously pointed to the candy as his motivation.
One proud mother, Brittany, was sporting crimson skin and had her hair done up to create devil’s horns. Her preternatural eyes glowed with an unwholesome light as she confirmed she was off to pick up her five-year-old to begin trick-or-treating.
Some of those in town were basking in the glory of having their artistic genius celebrated, specifically by winning a prize in the Night of 100 Pumpkins event at the Bakery. Jennifer (Captain Marvel) and Ella (dressed as a warm and enchanting fairy) Drouin both received ribbons, their proud parents Chris (Bob Ross) and Christie (Wonder Woman) reported at a downtown street corner. Jasper Bacon (Spider-Man) was found admiring the other works; his mother Elise pointed out the bespiked pumpkin-head which had earned him a prize for being particularly bizarre.
Halloween is certainly a time when bizarre is celebrated. This is the one day when a man can cover his face in a strange mask and lure children to the back of a hearse filled with body parts by offering them sweets, while their parents look on and smile.
This was the sixth New Paltz Halloween covered by this reporter, but it still had a first: one woman, when approached with a request for an interview for the New Paltz Times, laughed hysterically, believing that the reporter pitch was just a particularly convincing detail for an otherwise humdrum costume.
Pursuant to longtime tradition, the town’s youth center was transformed into a haunted attraction for two days. This year, the theme was “area 845,” putting a local stamp on the “storm area 51” meme which rampaged through the internet over the summer. Props and sets lovingly built by the town’s tireless youth workers laid the groundwork for a narrative which speaks to the mistrust over messaging from government and media sources, but it was the heartfelt acting of teen volunteers which brought that message home.
From the flying saucer artfully embedded in the front yard to the scenes of dissection and human victimization around every corner, the macabre transformation crystallized the cultural hand-wringing over the nature of truth. Should stories of captured extraterrestrials be dismissed simply because it’s been stated time and again that no such alien bodies exist, or should citizens reject as fabrications all evidence from official sources? Is the government here to help? Will these visitors — should they in fact exist — bring about a new age of understanding, or are they simply trying to sell drugs and steal women?
Visitors to the attraction may well have overlooked these deep and weighty themes, obscured as they were by the strobe lights, dark corridors, clouds of billowing smoke and endless screaming. An easier message to read is that for the cost of five dollars, one can support the town’s well-regarded youth program while also watching local kids having a blast trying to make the rubes jump out of their skins.