Friday, October 29, 2021. Cooler, sometimes sunny, but almost cold yesterday in New York. With very heavy traffic. And temps dropping to the high 40s last night. Two days before Halloween.
Halloween was a big one when I was a kid. It was called Trick-or-Treating and it meant going door-to-door in the neighborhood, ringing the bell and collecting as much candy (particularly chocolate) as possible. If you lived in a neighborhood where there were a lot of children — which I did — they/we were all out in some kind of costume get-up although nothing was as clever and interesting as how much you could accumulate in your bag of goodies. That also included apples and oranges (not a thrilling take). Lots of chocolate bars, Mars, Hersheys, chocolate kisses, jelly beans, all that high sugar-content stuff, was treasure.
I wasn’t clever about costumes but more interested in accumulating the stuff. In those days, candy was never something hanging around the house or ever even present, so the whole emphasis was on the “how much” you could gather.
I’m not sure what it’s like for kids these days in New York. Or if they’re even interested. Because in New York it’s about the parade that is staged downtown, especially Greenwich Village and nearby environs.
Our friend Jill Lynne, a lifelong resident of Greenwich Village, was actively presence in the early days of the Village Halloween Parade.
Here’s Jill’s description of the Village in the late ‘60s early ‘70s:
One awakened to the sound of sopranos practicing scales, the scent of incense, and as now, birds chirping “good morning.” At the western end of Bank Street was Westbeth, the former home of Bell Labs, which had just been revolutionized into the largest subsidized home for Artists in the world. All seemed rather idyllic and filled with dynamic possibility.
It was within this marvelous milieu that I was introduced to renowned mask maker and theatrical set designer, artist Ralph Lee.
Ralph whispered his ideas to me about creating a true Halloween Parade. The West Village of 1974 was a very different place than it is now — it was a tight-knit creative community of visual artists, musicians and literary figures.
In October 1974, accompanied by my young daughter CoriAnne, I found myself in Lee’s Westbeth loft assisting in the development of myriad magical creatures he created for that Parade.
On the days leading up to Halloween, a large word-of-mouth crowd formed in the Westbeth Courtyard. A hush fell over all, as a wondrous long snake on stilts, appeared over us.
In the beginning it was like a medieval pageant — carrying tall candles and reeds, as we filed silently through our streets.
This was the beginning of a Village tradition and celebration. And as a young photographer/artist living on the eastern end of Bank Street, I was graced to be part of it.
Here are some of Jill’s many photographs of the annual parade along with some scenes from her neighborhood spanning four decades …