Halloween Parade

The Greenwich Village Halloween Parade was founded in 1974 by Ralph Lee, a mask maker and theater director.1 The first parade had roughly 159 participants.2 The artistic nature of the parade in its early years is evidenced by the fact that many of the early organizers lived in the artists’ colony of Wesbeth.3


The parade had small performance pieces choreographed by Lee along the route, such as angels and devils fighting near a church.4 The first major changes occurred in the early 1980s. In 1985 Jeanne Fleming, who had joined the team in 1983, took over when Lee retired.5 Fleming also had a theater background; previously she had produced outdoor theatrical shows, and also designed clothes.6 With Lee’s departure came a difference noticeable to spectators, the puppets of women sweeping the street that had formerly started the parade.7 Lee did not want to supervise the puppets, nor did he trust anyone else to take proper care of the them,8 thus Fleming constructed new puppets for the parade.9 Organizations such as the Sierra Club or the American Civil Liberties Union sponsored tableaus as well.10

The parade also had an official after parade event called the promenade. Traffic was closed on Christopher Street from 7th Ave to the Hudson. Large numbers of drag queens and others outfitted in sexually explicit costumes would mingle, much to the enjoyment of the parade's spectators.11 While Halloween is often thought of a children’s holiday, the parade exists primarily for adults.12

The parade route has changed over the years. Originally it proceeded along many of the small and winding side streets of Greenwich Village. 1985 marked the first year the parade marched down 6th Ave, detouring slightly down West 10th St, to accommodate the 10th St block association.13 By 1987, however, residents of 10th St worried about the safety of so many people standing on old balconies, so the parade route shifted and only covered major boulevards of West Houston, 6th Ave, and 14th St.14 This route was thirty blocks and took marchers 2 hours to finish. Today the parade begins at Broom and 6th and proceeds to 6th and 21st.15


Many elements of the original parade exist today. There is no reviewing stand, thus politicians and celebrities who want to attend must observe the festivities from the same level as everyone else - in keeping with the nature of the holiday; Halloween is a night for changing the way life is ordinarily lived, subverting expectations, and doing something different.16 The parade, so ingrained in the countercultural nature of the Village, resists being led by well-known personalities from arts, politics, or entertainment.17 Anyone can participate in the parade; there is no approval process for individuals who want to be a part of it.18 There are few souvenirs for sale, no visible corporate sponsorship.19

The Parade attracts participants due to the nature of the holiday: anyone can be anything. Some believe that an individual's costume reveals a great deal about the wearer; it reveals what they value, how they see themselves, how they would like to be seen, or what they find scary.20 The numerous spectators who dress up for the festivities only add to the wide variety of costumes apparent at the parade.21 Some costumes from past parades illustrate the plethora of outfits: celebrities, nuns, the pope, past presidents and first ladies, characters from books, television shows and movies, animals, food, and modes of transportation. While there are no longer the choreographed set pieces, unplanned skits often occur as a result of marchers interacting with each other. Durning one parade, a participant dressed as a policeman asked two women dressed as Thelma and Louise in a car to produce identification.22 A woman dressed as a tourist asked spectators for directions to various well-known New York City landmarks. Many people wear outlandish costumes because of the attention and positive reaction they receive from the crowd23 - there are those who relish the thought that their costume will become water cooler conversation the next day. Some costumes even involve large dildos, or skimpy outfits, much akin to the attire of the paraders of the early years.


Many in the gay community see Halloween as a holiday with special meaning. Being openly gay is difficult for many, and impossible for some - a holiday based on pretending to be something you are not thus holds special meaning. On Halloween it is socially acceptable to be whatever you want, if only for a night.24 For years a large gay community thrived in Greenwich Village. Those who viewed the Halloween Parade as primarily a joyous celebration felt the gay pride parade was more of a political event.25 The AIDS epidemic of the 1980s decimated the Gay Community - Lou Reed’s 1988 song “Halloween Parade.” memorialized the loss of many of the parade's well-known figures.

The parade also pays homage to events that have affected New York City. In 2001, the parade's theme was "Phoenix Rising" and the puppetry featured a Phoenix, a mythical bird rising from the ash, representing the catastrophe of September 11th.


In 2005, to honor Katrina refugees temporarily residing in New York City, the parade included a large New Orleans puppet pageant, complete with puppets of New Orleans landmarks, and a jazz funeral contingent.26

The parade continues to be a Greenwich Village tradition as Fleming remains the leader of the festivities. One of the more interesting challenges of her job includes spacing out the puppets, bands, and individual marchers.27 In the 1990s, political activity including passing out leaflets for different causes became a larger part of the parade. Many considered leafleting acceptable as long as those distributing the literature dressed in costume.28 A group disseminating anti-fur flyers in regular clothing was not acceptable, while a Christian group handing out flyers in sheep costumes was29 - In Greenwich Village's Halloween Parade, showing the proper spirit trumps political sentiments. As a result of this minor controversy, now only people in costume are allowed to march in the parade.30 Puppets still constitute an important part of the procession. Since 1998 the Processional Arts Workshop, a subgroup of Superior Concept Monsters, in addition to a variety of other puppet theaters and pageants, have created the official puppets for the parade.31 For those who want to watch the parade, but do not want to brave the crowds, local stations NY and WPIX broadcast the festivities live.32

Check out this years theme for the 2010 Halloween Parade, happening Sunday October 31st.

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