If the latest global pandemic couldn’t kill off Halloween in New Paltz, then having to celebrate on a Monday wasn’t going to do much to dampen the enthusiasm. The weather was cool enough that no one dressed as a grinch or a sand person is going to get heatstroke, and the few drops of rain that feel during the evening didn’t amount to much. There were opportunities to celebrate for days ahead, which only seemed to pump up the excitement. Snaking along its new route to Huguenot Street, the annual Halloween parade appeared to stretch for miles across the community. It was a change, yes, but Halloween in New Paltz has always changed. No one has written a comprehensive history about how this holiday is celebrated in this community, but for at least 60 or 70 years this is where kids have wanted to be on Halloween.
For a long time, the parade has been the most visible aspect of the New Paltz Halloween experience. It was started by Bill Heidgerd as a Lions Club initiative sometime in the 1960s, according to club members, in an effort to give local kids something minimally constructive to do. Today, it attracts many people from out of town as well as locals, with people lining the route up to an hour ahead of time. Spectators are there to look at all the costumes in the parade, and marchers are there to look at all the costumes along the sidelines. Frequently, they trade places in a strange dance of aliens, ghouls, pop culture and political nightmares come to life.
Landlords and real estate agents are not obligated to warn new residents if they live in a high-candy zone, which is mostly dictated by the parade route. The fact that the final destination was moved had those in the know adapting to new circumstances. Linda Welles has lived across from the Plattekill Avenue firehouse where full-sized chocolate bars and local apples were handed out by the hundreds for 40 years, but now there’s a new firehouse on the other side of town. “We are very sad about the change in the parade route,” Welles said when reached earlier this week, because welcoming 400 or more trick-or-treaters was a joy. On the other hand, “We won’t be buying as much candy!” In past years, some Plattekill Avenue residents have reported as many as 1200 requests for candy on a single Halloween.
Huguenot Street has been intentionally cultivated as candy central for a number of years, now. Trick-or-treat stations are set up throughout Historic Huguenot Street in particular, and neighbors have come to expect plenty of overflow. According to resident Kathy Schwartz, residents got together and planned on being all in. “Normally we get a ton” of candy, Schwartz said, but this year, “we got two tons.” The planning absolutely extended the fun fall vibe clear up to Mulberry Street. At one house, a gigantic leaf pile was host to up to a dozen laughing, leaping costumed children at any given moment. The neighbors seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the experience, with one being brave enough to leave out a “take one” bowl.
With the steady flow ahead of the parade, Dave Sadeq-Keyes simply said, “I think we’ll find out how prepared we are.”
Huguenot trick-or-treating has quickly become a staple of the Halloween tour, even though it’s relatively new because it was started in this century. A much older event is the Night of 100 Pumpkins, a carving competition hosted at The Bakery since 1990. A popular tradition was to crowd into the cozy backyard of that North Front Street business after the parade to enjoy the clever variety in a location that seemed spookier because of the high, stone walls. Bakery owner David Santner has of this year passed that event also over to Huguenot Street. There was little time to promote this change, and as a result the number of entries was smaller than in some other years. Three dozen incredibly creative entries were on display in a lonesome row as costumed characters trundled by from one candy station to the next. There was surreptitious talk about how to “get away” with going to each station more than once, but in truth the staff members don’t give a hoot as long as everyone is having fun. Organizers have learned over the years just how much candy is needed to support even two hours of this kind of distribution.
With the parade route turning right instead of left at P&G’s, the end point was set up for an “after party” that included a performance by the school band members who helped lead the parade, just to set the mood. The apples and candy would be distributed as always, and more musicians would entertain the crowd. Parents may be thankful that 7:30 was set up a firm stop time for this school night.
The parade may be important, but there’s a lot more Halloween events than one reporter could possibly attend, and this year it was in full force the weekend ahead. Two outstanding events were both haunted attractions made possible by a horde of teen volunteers who clearly love this kind of community service.
New Paltz Youth Program hosts what’s currently the longest-running haunted house in New Paltz. This year one was taken to a “carnivale” that has become the grisly fate of a number of kidnapped children, according to the story. While last year’s offering had a manic energy about it after a cancellation in 2020 (which was also the night of a full moon, which only lands on Halloween four more times this century), the mood this year was more of the soft, creepy kind that raises goosebumps. There were still plenty of jump scares, ghoulish props and costumes, but the actors spun it more like Children of the Corn than Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The architects of this event year after year always manage to create a framework that this year’s actors can use to best advantage.
Over at Elting, this was just the second year with an attraction put on through the youth program there. Teen programming director Deborah Engel-Di Mauro was clearly bursting with pride about what these kids had on offer, which happened to be set in a high school in the 1980s. Last year’s attraction used portions of the old library building, but this year they moved into the stacks of the main library. What seemed like a vanilla story in a lovingly-crafted setting took a dark turning without warning, leaving the attendees unceremoniously ejected into the street with hearts racing.
After a group of jaded tweens dismissed one of those haunted attractions as “not very scary” on Sunday night, one of them turned the questioning on this reporter, wanting to know about other Halloween activities. That interview ended with the youngster asking, “You mean there’s a parade tomorrow?” Oh, you sweet summer child.