The 48th annual NYC Village Halloween Parade went off without a hitch last night on a delightfully mild Fall evening, with a packed crowd along the route which began at Dominick and Varick, moving swiftly north to its ending point at 6th and 18th Street. Since there is nothing I wouldn’t do for Woman Around Town, I volunteered this year to give readers a glimpse into this most creative of New York events, but it was also an opportunity for me to experience the parade for the first time, and from the INSIDE!
Reporting at the check-in tent at 4 p.m., located a block from the starting point, I met Grace, the volunteer coordinator, who I’d first seen on our Zoom meeting earlier this week. With bright yellow tee-shirt and parade volunteer credentials in hand, I was told to look for Bill who would give me my first assignment. He was sparkling in a glittering circus-MC kind of outfit, and easy to find. Along with two other volunteers, we went to pick up six pumpkin head sticks, about seven feet high, which would be used as meeting place markers for the marching band members who would soon be arriving. Although it was still almost three hours before kickoff, the area around Dominick and Sixth, was bustling like a Warner Brothers back lot with costumed characters, professionally made-up ghouls, superheroes, horror movie monsters, and on and on.
With the pumpkin sticks task completed, my next assignment was to work the “rope.” Hmm. Not quite sure what that was all about, but I was eager to see another part of this “behind the scenes” adventure. The rope was just that, but a large one, something you’d tie a boat up with, and used to connect, like a chain, a group of five walkers. Three volunteers would hold seven-foot-high sticks with a Medusa mask atop, and two would be the book ends, holding the end of the rope. We’d walk the parade route in a line, sandwiched between a tall plastic monster puppet, and a group of 30 or so workers from a protein bar company who were handing samples to the crowds.
The only downside? Once we were lined up with our rope, there was still about 90 minutes to wait before the horn blew for the parade to start. It did, however, afford an opportunity to see some of the magnificent floats (20 or so were expected), and the tall puppets resembling ghosts, angels, snakes, and on and on. From my spot, I saw characters on stilts, on hoverboards, on bicycles, on roller skates. Music pounded from the nearby floats, and although my spot only allowed peeks at them through the trees, I did hear the infamous Thriller song coming from one float as the dancers would perform the iconic dance number at a spot along the parade route – most likely for the TV cameras.
This year’s parade, I was told, almost didn’t happen. Walking with Bill in his long shiny jacket and top hat, I learned that the organization received their permit back in July, but were way under-funded. An online campaign raised a small percentage of what was needed, but in swooped an angel, a Jason Feldman and his wife Missy, who saved the parade, calling it, “the best medicine for our city.”
As for Grace, the organizer, whom I only know by first name, I was able to learn how she came to be the volunteer coordinator – she said that about five or so years ago, she’d up with one of the parade organizers while working at an event company, and after they got to talking, she was asked if she’d like to get involved. Grace says, “My second year working the parade I took over the volunteer coordinator position and I have been doing it ever since. I absolutely love the parade, the artistry, the characters, the spirit of NYC/the world, and meeting and working with so many different people as staff and volunteers.”
The march up Sixth Avenue was a “thriller” of another kind, as it offered quite the vantage point: the sidelines were packed with diverse, happy, made-up faces of all ages; viewers watched from above from their apartments or offices, we saw doggies and babies in costume amidst the intense police presence. It was truly a festive time for New York City to breathe a bit freer and play a little.
At 18th Street, we were instructed to turn left where waiting vans would pick up the props. After handing over the rope and Medusa masks, the five of us gave a round of high fives for a job well done, and then went our separate ways. I followed a line of costumed characters all headed to the #1 uptown train and anticipated the surprised reactions of the subway passengers. But, in one of those “only in New York moments,” as we entered the train car, the passengers simply looked up, and away, returning to their conversations and cell phones.
Photos by MJ Hanley-Goff