History of the NYC Halloween Parade

Feathers, sequins, dramatic makeup and a love for the unusual have become staples for the historic NYC Halloween parade. The tradition of the New York City Halloween parade was started by Greenwich Village resident Ralph Lee in 1974. Ralph Lee was a puppeteer and artist. He used to make elaborate papier-mâché sculptures to be used in the parades. The first parade only had about 200 people with a route starting at Jane Street off of Hudson in the Village going into Washington Square Park. The number of participants more than doubled the following year and has continued to exponentially rise since. Over the years the parade has reflected the artistic community and local spirit of its neighborhood, often adding satire, political commentary, and just oddly funny visuals.

source: @nychalloween​

The parade attracted all the residents and took people by surprise back in the 1970s and 1980s. People wore costumes of everything you could ever imagine. There were also all sorts of puppets on wooden sticks above the crowd such as skeletons and snakes. But you are just as likely to see a full ensemble of individuals dress up as walking martini glasses, or the ever popular and colorfully decorated Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps marching band. The costumes are wonderfully strange and beloved by many, one being my father who fondly remembers going in the 1980’s and insists I see it for myself. The costumes are extravagant and sometimes other worldly with a sense of macabre and humor. Early in the parade’s history, along the route many people gathered and celebrated on fire escapes and balconies getting one of the best views of the parade. There were also different vignettes along the route set up with people acting in costumes adding to the full immersive experience.

The parade has an enormous amount of energy and continues to capture the spirit of the village from the 1970’s and 1980’s. The parade draws in all kinds of people. In the crowd are families with their kids in wagons, dressed up for the evening waiting for their favorite superhero or monster, drag queens, and artists showing off their creative costumes. The costumes themselves are works of art, showing the enormous creativity and proof that living art is often the best type of art for an event like this.

source: nychalloween​

As what began as a fun and small community event grew bigger, it became more city regulated event with police barriers. Eventually the route was redirected onto Sixth avenue in 1985 because it became so popular.  Hard core attendees from the parade’s start, including the founder Ralph Lee, commented in an October 2016 New York Post article that, “It just isn’t the same. People could flirt with each other and have interchanges, and all kinds of surprising things would happen.”  But for those first timers who attend (including yours truly last Halloween as a freshman with my dad), it was a fun and wild New York weird event not to miss.