The Village Halloween Parade may not be as completely outrageous as it once was, but this annual holiday extravaganza is quintessential Greenwich Village. Though many parade attendees are there to show off their costumes and check out those of others, there’s a large number of guests who revel in the nostalgia of a New York tradition that’s marched downtown since 1973. But there’s a lot more history to the parade than most people may know. For instance, it didn’t always go up 6th Avenue, and there’s an entire art form behind those supersized puppets.
Village Halloween Parade
6sqft’s ongoing series The Urban Lens invites photographers to share work exploring a theme or a place within New York City. In this installment, award-winning photographers James and Karla Murray return with a series of snapshots from last year’s debaucherous Village Halloween Parade. Are you a photographer who’d like to see your work featured on The Urban Lens? Get in touch with us at [email protected].
Started by Greenwich Village mask maker and puppeteer Ralph Lee in 1973, the Village Halloween Parade began as a “wandering neighborhood puppet show.” The event was a walk from house to house in Lee’s neighborhood, created for his children and their friends to enjoy. In the three years that followed, the parade took on new shapes and sizes, propelled first by George Bartenieff and Crystal Field of the Theater for the New City, who staged the production in its second year as part of their City in the Streets program; and then two years later when the parade became a non-profit with its own resources to put on a major show. By 1985, the parade morphed into an extravaganza that marched down Sixth Avenue, attracting 250,000 participants and onlookers. Today, the Village Halloween Parade is the largest celebration of its kind, considered by Festivals International to be “The Best Event in the World” for October 31st.
Our ongoing series “My sqft” checks out the homes of 6sqft’s friends, family and fellow New Yorkers across all the boroughs. Our latest interior adventure brings us to Westbeth Artists Housing in the West Village. Want your home to be featured here? Get in touch!
When the old Bell Telephone Laboratories building was transformed to the Westbeth affordable artists’ housing in 1970, one of the original creatives to move in was Ralph Lee, a theater jack-of-all trades who is best known for his larger-than-life puppets and masks. His whimsical creations served as the props for the very first Village Halloween Parade, an event that has since grown into an annual, nationally-known event. Today, his characters from the early days of the parade adorn his eclectic live/work studio in Westbeth, where he still lives and continues to make puppets and masks for his company the Mettawee River Theatre. Ralph recently invited 6sqft into his space, where we got up close and personal with the puppets and were able to see how the magic happens.
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