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Category Archives: Halloween

Neighborhoods New York Hometurf Holiday Special: Clinton Hill

Alien and Astronaut, 2015

So my neighborhood goes kind of big for Halloween.

The weekend before (or after, depending) there is a whole Halloween parade/fun day for kids in Fort Greene Park, complete with hay rides, a pumpkin patch, and a costume parade.  There’s also a dog costume contest at the north end of the park. And then at night, three blocks close to car traffic and three houses all stage competing stage shows – there’s the family-friendly option and the B-movie-lovers’ option, and then there’s the jazz band that jams on the sidewalk in monster costumes.   Combine that with every kid in the neighborhood running around hopped up on sugar, three ice cream trucks and someone selling glow-in-the-dark toys out of a street cart, and it’s quite the spectacle.

This year was the first time I’d tried to catch the dog show – and I foolishly thought I could just wander over a few minutes after they started.  Surely there’d still be a seat, right?

Ha.  There were over 150 contestants, all crowded on the steps leading down to the stage, with a tuxedoe’d MC and a woman in a kitty costume keeping some kind of order while scores of dogs in various states of dress waddled about.  The MC was already introducing contestant number 28 when I turned up, and I had to walk the long way around the crowd, stopping only to take the occasional picture before finally sitting on top of a wall next to a very friendly boxer, and in front of a French Bulldog with a strange little froggy bark.

Lots of people went with some variant of either cars or food; there was a matched set, a taco and a taco truck.

Taco and Taco Truck (Fort Green Pup Costume Parade, 2015)

There were no less than three Robin Hoods, four mermaids and a handful of dinosaurs.

T-Rex (Fort Greene Pup Costume Parade, 2015)

A lot of people also dressed up along with their dogs; like this “Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe”.

The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe (2015 Pup Costume Contest)

The grand prize winners were a trio dressed as “Animal Control,” with the handlers dressed as squirrels being chased by a pug in a civic uniform with a net.  The Player Piano came in second.

Animal Control (First Prize, Fort Greene Pup Costume Parade, 2015)Player Piano (Fort Greene Pup Costume Parade, 2015)

Things ended soon enough for me to try to get a healthy dinner before heading back outside; as I walked home, I passed small knots of kids already trick-or-treating in the various businesses along Myrtle Avenue, watching for shops with signs declaring “We Have Candy!”  The fishmarket had a hastily-scrawled message on a whiteboard – “All Out Of Candy, Sorry!”

I’d come up with a way to dress up as an angel – a hastily-pinned together thing with bedsheets, a sash, and a store-bought set of wings, with a royal blue sari draped around myself.  It was voluminous enough that I could put on layers underneath and not freeze outside.  My roommate – who is from Belgium, and said this was her first Halloween – declined my offer of a couple of my last years’ costumes, and said she would just observe.  We were on our way down the stairs when we ran into four kids – two from our neighbors on the second floor, and two other friends – who all turned when they saw us, and shouted, “Trick or treat!”

“Oh!”  We hadn’t counted on this.  “Oh dear…well, we angels don’t have pockets,” I said, “So… my angel helper can run up and get something.”  My roommate took the cue and ran back upstairs.  I stalled with some angelic-sounding patter, complimenting all the kids on their costumes; one girl was a phoenix, with elaborate makeup and a huge pair of gold wings, which she unfurled for me to show off.  “And you are?” I turned to a little boy, all wrapped up in green swaddling and green facepaint. Just as I was preparing to guess whether he was Leonardo or Michaelangelo Ninja turtle, he announced, “I’m a Green Mummy!

“Oh!  I’ve…never met a green mummy before, I didn’t know you….could be that color.”  Fortunately my Angel Helper came back with four Kind Bars she grabbed from the house stash and dropped them in each of the kids’ bags, and then we swanned out past them, me telling them to have a blessed Halloween.

 Most of the action was on the show blocks, but the whole way there we still passed clusters of kids with parents hurrying there; some of whom seem to have already gotten into the sugar.  One tiny Green Lantern was engaged in a swordfight with an Iron Man, until their cat-eared mother scolded them to “Knock it off and keep up!”  My roommate had offered to carry my things (angels don’t have pockets), but I asked her for my camera when I saw a kid dressed as an entire red British phone booth, complete with a fake take-a-number flyer advertising a used camera or something.  It even lit up inside.  Unfortunately, when I finally got my camera from her he turned his back to me, and I waited a couple fruitless minutes for him to turn back around to face me before giving up.  Meanwhile my roommate was trying to get a shot of the whole family of mom, dad, and three girls who’d all donned roller skates and light-up LED tubes to go as “Starlight Express.”

"Malice in Underland", Halloween 313 show, 2015

We’d showed up midway through one show, which was a strange mix of Alice in Wonderland with Fantastic Voyage – I think the premise was that Alice had been shrunk down to atomic size and she and her rag doll were now in Cheshire Cat’s body, trying to find their way to his brain.  An interesting idea, but maybe too high-concept in execution.  Right about the time that a bunch of kids in white body suits were trying to crowd the stage and Alice was saying “oh, no, Rags!  Cheshire’s leukocytes are trying to attack us!” my roommate turned to me and said “I don’t know if I get this.”

“Me either,” I admitted.  We went over to the next block, where Pam Fleming’s band was just wrapping up with “Monster Mash” before segueing into a slow blues jam about Satan coming for you and your woman.  It was near time for the second show to start, and I studied the set.

Set for Waverly Place Halloween Show, 2015

In years past, this show just used two side-by-side garages, one of which had a remote-control door opener; this year was their last show, so they went all out and made it bi-level, complete with full sound, neon lights in two separate languages and a video screen.

Set, 2015 Waverly Place Costume Parade

This block’s show always would go for the over-the-top gore and the B-movie monsters – lots of fake blood, fart jokes, and jump-scares.  For their final outing, they decided to go all-out, with a subplot about a roving reporter who’d devoted the past ten years to studying the “strange Halloween events of the past decade all fortelling a 2015 apocalypse”.  After a pre-taped review of all nine previous shows, he retreated to his “hotel room” at the top of the set, and the show then hit us with four classic movie monsters – Frankenstein, his Bride, Godzilla, and Wolfman, all rampaging through the set and fighting each other.  As soon as they showed up, about five parents towards the front who’d had kids perched on their shoulders started edging their way back away from the stage, all their kids in full-throated scream-cry mode.  The rest of the kids were a little baffled, and stayed so when Godzilla rampaged through a cardboard set of Brooklyn, squirting something out of a tank through the rear end of his costume.  “He’s pooping!” I heard one father in the crowd explain to his child.

Dracula, 2015 Waverly Place Halloween show

Dracula also showed up, as did a little girl in an Exorcist homage complete with bleeding walls and puked-up pea soup.  The show even sent our hero to hell, where he competed in a parody game show against past shows’ heros for a chance to be restored to life – but then he, and the world at large, was saved by Ultraman.

Ultraman, 2015 Waverly Place costume show

Only as soon as he got back to Earth, the Wolfman ate him, in a fantastic spray of fake blood.  The end.

Pam Fleming was starting up again as the cast took their last bows, but my roommate and I turned for home.

Neighborhoods New York: Fort Totten Halloween Special

I really should come back and do Fort Totten properly another time.  But this was too goofy to miss.

Fort Totten is one of the loads of forts scattered along New York’s harbor – built during one war or another, rendered obsolete, and consigned to a landmark or park status.  Fort Totten was built during the Civil War, and the original design for the battlements was far grander than what stands there today; but halfway through construction, it was becoming apparent that the Confederate Army probably wasn’t going to come quite so far north after all, so they scaled back a bit, and the “fort” ruins now occupy a small part of the shore overlooking Little Neck, on the northeast shore of Queens.

But that’s just the fort proper.  The area around it was a military base for a good while as well, complete with officers’ houses, a chapel, rec buildings, a workshop, an infirmary, an armory, and an officers’ club that ironically was designed by Robert E. Lee.  Most of it is now a city park, with some of the buildings used as training centers for city police, and a couple museums in some of the old buildings.  Rangers give tours of the fortification and battery itself.

But the weekend before Halloween, the rangers have a little fun and throw a different kind of tour.

The ads I’d seen said that the tour ran from 6:30 to 8:30; I thought I was doing well getting there just before 7.  But the line for the tour was already long and loud and boisterous, about fifty people huddled on the path down to the battery’s gate.  Four rangers kept order, waving us all into line and counting us off into groups, warning us not to use flashlights inside, and working the crowd.  One ranger was actually dressed in a full werewolf costume, and was asking kids in the line if they wanted him as a guardian.

I was in line a good 15 minutes, admiring the view of Bronx across the harbor as the line gradually shuffled down to the gate.  The rangers were all taking turns leading groups of about 20 of us through at a time, and our guide reminded us all one last time to not use flashlights, to stick together, and when a couple of kids said they’d been there before, he asked them not to spoil any surprises for the rest of us.  After winding us all up a bit, he led us in, giving us a potted history of the battlement during the five-minute walk to the fort itself.  He also wove in stories of a construction accident while they were building the fort, “and so that’s why we always see spooky things every year about this time…”  We all paused at a second gate.  “Okay!  Everyone ready to go in?”  All the kids shouted “yeah,” the adults laughed, and in we went.

To be honest, it was your typical “haunted house”, with lots of fake cobwebbing and spooky lights and costumed people jumping out and shouting “boo”.  But the path lead us through the creepy ruins of the granite fort, complete with iron-barred windows and dark winding passages and dim alcoves, which gave everything a genuinely creepy feel.  Midway through the tour I realized that I was outpacing everyone else in the group by about five feet, and turned around to see they were all cowering.  “What, you’re sending me out to die alone??” I teased them.

Except then a guy dressed as a zombie jumped out beside me and I screeched and hid behind the ranger.

The whole tour was more of a startle-then-laugh thing, though.  The rangers were clearly into it, hamming it up for all they were worth; a few other rangers scattered throughout were dressed as Ghostbusters and were there to keep order and calm down any genuinely-scared kids, and the path was strewn with loads more people dressed as mad scientists and witches and zombies and ghouls cavorting through the fort and jumping towards us and grabbing us and making spooky noises and generally having immense fun.  Our trip through the fort was short, but it was goofy.

There was one sincerely creepy moment, though – at the very end of the tour, we had to walk through a long tunnel, which they had pitch black except for a small pin light every ten feet or so.  “Just follow me through,” our ranger told us all, “just follow the sound of my voice!  There will be a light at the end of this tunnel, I promise, and then we’ll be safe!”  I was more worried about stumbling in the near-darkness, and was moving slowly, trying to feel for a handhold along the wall.  And soon I did see a light – or, at least, a lightish patch of something in the tunnel.   And then it got closer and I saw it was a glowing face, hovering in the air and coming towards us.   Once it got close enough I could see it was a glow-in-the-dark mask, slung against someone’s chest; still, it was spooky enough that I edged away from it, and a couple people behind me also squealed at the sight.

But then a teenage voice scoffed out of the dark just above the face.  “Really?” it said.  “Really?  People, I’m on my break.”

 The tunnel opened up beside the fort’s visitor’s center – closed for the night – and the ranger lead us all up the driveway and out, shouting out quick directions to where to catch the city bus home.  “Thanks for coming, and have a happy Halloween!” he chirped.   I asked him a couple questions before I left myself; was this an annual event?  “Oh, yeah, I think they do this every year, always the weekend before Halloween.  I wouldn’t know for sure, though, I’m from a Manhattan park – they just needed extra help this year!”  He told me that usually they saw about 400 people a night – but so far this year, they’d had a turnout nearly three times as high.

“You look like you’re having a blast, though,” I said.

“Oh, yeah.  They always get people to come help – from Manhattan like me, or Staten Island…even the people inside, those are mostly local kids who volunteered with our nature program.  Well,” he laughed, “we couldn’t get them too interested in nature for these past couple weeks, though.”

I was actually halfway to the main gate and on my way off the grounds when someone stopped me to ask where the “haunted castle” was.  “You mean the fort? I think it’s back that way…”

“No, I did that,” they said.  “I’m talking about the castle thing. You know, the mansion?”

I had no idea what they meant, but another passerby did, and gave them directions; I followed them a few paces behind.  We ended up at the old officers’ club, current home to the Bayside Historical Society, which was running its own haunted house.  Except this one was charging admission.  “Five dollars, please,” he woman by the door asked me.

“Oh….I only have two.”  The woman just eyed me.  “Um…you don’t take a check, do you?”

“No, afraid not.”

“oh….”  I turned to go; I hadn’t planned on visiting anyway.  “Well, thanks anyway.”

But a young couple behind me stopped me. “You don’t have cash?” the guy said.  “Don’t worry, we got ya.”  He handed money to the woman, saying “party of three.”  Grateful, I tagged along with them.

It was a similar case of costumed-people-jumping-out, but the museum’s rooms let them set up a few tableaus as well – a “funeral” room where a woman in a mantilla urged us closer to a coffin, so a guy in a zombie mask could sit up and roar at us, or a closed-off “autopsy room” we could peer at through a window only to see the “cadaver” was alive and begging our help.  A team of kids were the costumed zombies chasing us on the porch, but as soon as we were safely through the door they all dropped the act and went back to being kids just hanging out.  Still, it was all too much for some of the little kids;  we were going through the house just behind a young family, with a kid of about seven; when they got to the funeral room, I saw the kid take one look at the woman in the mantilla and beeline right over to the next door, passing by the whole room completely.  “Come see the dead guy!” she implored to his back, as he totally ignored her.

The house tour ended in a hall where witch-hatted women sold snacks and small toys like glow-sticks and light-up rings, and encouraged people to “take a selfie with the zombie” – a mannequin dressed in raggedy tuxedo and a zombie mask.  My new friends were heading over to the zombie, but I stopped them – “I got just enough for two candy bars,” I said.  “Can I get you guys some?”

“Really?” the guy gushed.

“Dude, you got my admission,” I said, fishing my money out.  In the end they only got one Hershey bar , and all three of us helped ourselves to a free “Halloween treat bag,” a plastic bag festooned with a toy skeleton keychain.  After taking turns taking each others’ pictures with the zombie, we bade each other goodnight and I wandered out to find my way back to the bus home.