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Nyack People & Places

What was Nyack’s First Halloween Parade Like?

Nyack’s famous annual Halloween parade hosted by the Nyack Chamber of Commerce is fast approaching its 33rdedition. It is the largest Halloween parade in the New York City area apart from the Greenwich Village Halloween parade in its 49th year in 2022. In Nyack, 10,000 spectators are expected once again after a two-year pandemic intermission. The parade seems to get bigger and better every year changing much from its first parade in 1986. Back then, the Halloween parade was so well thought out, that the planners labeled it the first annual, full-well knowing many more would follow. They were right. What was the first parade like?

Late to the Game

Nyack’s Halloween (or Hallowe’en as it was spelled back in the day) parades before 1986 were timid by comparison to today. Piermont, Spring Valley, Suffern already had institutionalized some form of annual Halloween parade. The first large parade seems to be in Spring Valley in 1929 that included free moving pictures, bands, a parade, and a block party. 10 years later the Spring Valley parade attracted 10,000. The Piermont annual parade was going full blast by 1954. Suffern was drawing crowds of 1,500 by the mid-50s. Other got in the act including Pearl River, Clarkstown, Valley Cottage schools, New City, Central Nyack Engine Company, and others.

1951 Liberty Street School Halloween parade

From at least the 1930s on, Nyack ‘s Liberty Street school held annual Halloween parades for its lower grades. Over time, these parades became more elaborate. In 1959, the parade included bands and marching on the street.  By 1981, six different Halloween parades stepped off in the Nyack area. The largest started at the corner of Cedar and Main Streets at 2p at the site of the original Nyack Farmers Market. The parade was for preschoolers through 4th grade. Only Piermont and Sparkill parades were held at night.

Theater Parades

Theater parades started in the 1930s. Nyack’s Rockland Theater on N. Broadway started Halloween early at 9.30a with a parade in the theater. Kids competed in contests like apple ducking. Then children watched a special selection of cartoons and other fun videos. In the 1940s, the theater hired a filmmaker to make movies of the children that were later shown at the theater. The Broadway Theater in Haverstraw and the Lafayette in Suffern held similar events. In all cases, the costs were donated by local businesses.

Rockland Theater on N. Broadway in Nyack. Courtesy of the Nyack Library.

Ready, Set, Ghoul

The idea of a Nyack Halloween parade burst on the scene like a flash of lightning on a moonlit night. In 1986, Halloween fell on a Friday night. It was a perfect time for a “splashy event” according to Mark Williams, Executive Director of the sponsor, the Nyack Chamber of Commerce. Terry Hecker, event organizer, laid out the goals as having a family event and to make Nyack a safe place for everyone to spend Halloween. Nyack Trustee Emily Feiner, who was also to be one of the costume judges, put it another way.

“Nyack is a colorful village; we will have a lot of colorful characters in the parade.”

Emily Feiner

As a special feature of the event, Nyack actor and comedian Sandy Baron, co-star with Grace Jones in the campy, 1986 vampire movie Vamp, became the first grand marshal of the parade. Cinema East theater, then located in the Nyack Plaza on Main Street with a marquee facing the parking lot, showed Vamp at midnight following the regular feature, Children of a Lesser God starring William Hurt. 15,000 Hershey kisses decorated the lobby for Halloween.

Poster for Vamp, 1986, shown at Cinema East on Halloween.

The First Annual Halloween Parade Wasn’t Just for Children

Getting ready for the 1986 parade.

It was a clear crisp night for the 5,000 assembled for the parade. The parade stated from the Pavion Factory heading east on Cedar Hill Ave, turning north onto Broadway, and then left on Main Street to Franklin Street. Even before the parade started, a haunted house was held in the Nyack Baptist Church on the corner of Fifth Avenue and N. Broadway from 5-7:30. 15,000 Hershey kisses were distributed at the haunted house, courtesy of the Bauman Gallery. Kids in costumes were bused to the parade start at Pavion.

Only known photograph of the 1986 parade in the Journal News

From the very beginning, the Nyack parade was not just about child’s play. Adults costumed as Tina Turner, a box of McDonald’s French fries, a piano, dozens of witches, devils, and clowns, a half man-half-woman, and the cast from the Wizard of Oz. One float held a Transylvanian graveyard complete with vampires. Six revelers came as a six-pack of “Chernobyl Beer”. A gorilla on stilts caused kids to say “Wow”.

“This is the best, the absolute best. I think this is a real community event at its greatest. Adults are here and they can go on and party, but the kids are here too.” 

Susan Gelb, Nyack

1986 Prizes Announced

Judging of costumes took place in the Nyack Plaza parking area after the completion of the parade. Three sisters from Philadelphia visiting their grandfather won the grand prize, draped in a bloody sheet with a severed head in a bucket. They walked away with a 3-foot-tall jar of Hershey Kisses and a$50 U.S. saving bond. Merlin the Magician, aka Nyack resident Jerry Fenton, won the best costume for adults in a costume that was one of 250 Janet Fenton created for a production of Camelot. They received a weekend in the Hershey Poconos Resort donated by Travel World in Valley Cottage. Other awards were given for the most original, the worst, the scariest, and the funniest costumes.

Local Restaurants

Several local eateries held their own costume parties for adults. Many will remember the River Club (demolished), Raoul’s (Hudson House), Via Fettuccini, (Nyack Plaza Mall), Slattery’s Pub (The Greekish), The Coven Café (Communal Kitchen), OD’s (Dolce Vita), Old Fashion (now Maura’s Kitchen), the Skylark (Breakfast & Burger Club), and the lone survivor today, Temptations.

The popular River Club next to the Memorial Park parking lot closed in 2015

Going All Out for Halloween

Nyack villagers like to think they are different, and they are if the Halloween Parade is the measure. The Chamber of Commerce announced the 33rd annual parade for October 29, 2022. The parade was cancelled for the last two pandemic years. If no other parade was cancelled, then this year should really be the 34th. But who is counting? It’s time again for the wacky and weird to wander Nyack in the largest costumed parade between New York City and Transylvania.

Michael Hays is a 35-year resident of the Nyacks. Hays grew up the son of a professor and nurse in Champaign, Illinois. He enjoyed a long career in educational publishing with Prentice-Hall and McGraw-Hill. He s currently president of the Historical Society of the Nyacks and vice president of the Edward Hopper House Museum & Study Center. Hays is an avid cyclist, amateur historian and photographer, gardener, and dog walker. He has enjoyed more years than he cares to count with his beautiful companion, Bernie Richey. You can follow him on Instagram as UpperNyackMike.

Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is brought to you by Sun River Health.

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