At 8 p.m. on Halloween—48 hours after Hurricane Sandy ravaged New York City—Manhattan’s Greenwich Village was dark and deserted. This time last year, more than 50,000 costume-clad rabble-rousers crowded the streets, marching from Soho to Chelsea as thousands more looked on. But this year, only cop-car headlights lit the roads, while those who hadn’t already fled the powerless neighborhood walked their dogs or scavenged for open bars.
The annual Village Halloween Parade had grown from an independent exhibition of costumes and masks founded in 1974 by artist Ralph Lee and the Theater for the New City to a city-sponsored spectacle held together by the NYPD. But when the city canceled this year’s parade for the first time in its 39-year history, most locals didn’t seem to mind.
Perhaps that’s because the parade isn’t what it used to be, at least according to Todd Katz, a Village resident of 23 years. “To me this is the most beautiful Halloween ever in New York,” Katz said. “I used to march in the old parade which was down on Christopher Street, but when it became really corporate I stopped.”
Or maybe it’s because there was something else in the works.
Around 9 p.m., as entertainment-seeking stragglers wandered into the few candlelit bars that remained stocked with ice and booze, the sounds of an accordion, bass drum, and even a sousaphone suddenly flooded the streets. The official Halloween bash may have been dumped but the Village Parade had gone back to its roots.
The 100 or so spirited freaks weren’t going to let a blackout get in the way of their Halloween festivities.
“We’re all artists and activists who go ahead and make things like this happen. We don’t need permits or permission from the city,” said one costumed woman from Brooklyn. Her friends had told her about the parade as she spent the day doing relief work in the Lower East Side. “We’ve got to keep the spirit alive,” she said. “People have been having a hard time lately and it’s just good to show that we have as much life and vitality as we always have. We’re survivors and we like parades.”
Costumes ran the gamut from mariachi musicians and sailors to a blue “Occu-Puss”—an Occupy Wall Street protester dressed as an eight-legged sea creature.
Locals in sweatpants were interspersed among the band of revelers. “I was just out for a spin around the block with my dog when I heard the commotion,” said Gary Chase, holding his dog in his arms as he hustled to keep up with the group.
The renegade parade kicked off at its traditional starting spot at Sixth Avenue and Spring Street, and wrapped around Christopher Street through the Village’s windy roads—the original route before the city took over.
Those dressed up said they’d heard about the impromptu gathering from friends or on Twitter—through Occupy Wall Street feeds or Kostume Kult, a Burning Man camp. Most had trekked from the comforts of Brooklyn and Harlem—neighborhoods spared by Sandy’s wrath—to strut through the barren Village.
Those who wouldn’t normally participate in the festivities were inspired by this year’s motley crew. “We usually avoid the parade altogether because it’s so crowded and crazy,” said Max Farago, a fashion photographer who has lived in the neighborhood for four years with his girlfriend, filmmaker Clara Cullen.
A man dressed as a sailor was so excited to see the parade going by his local bar that he ran outside with a full beer in hand. He was quickly apprehended by the cops, who lined the street and kept rabble rousers on the sidewalks. It’s as if they planned for everything.
Yet when asked earlier in the evening whether they anticipated a gathering, several officers from the West Village’s Precinct 6 said they predicted a quiet night. A supervising officer who was on crowd duty also claimed he had no clue anything like this was going to go down. Yet his smirk and the NYPD’s recently displayed savviness for following fringe plans on Twitter suggest the cops were wiser than they let on.
Though mostly in good spirits, the “Occu-Puss” and others in the crowd were eager to air grievances against Mayor Bloomberg and the city’s handling of the hurricane.
One man, who said he brought water and supplies from uptown to his friends in the Village, complained of the traffic that kept him on the bus for two hours. “I wish Mayor Bloomberg had put passenger restrictions [in place] today before the massive gridlock,” he said.
As the merry band moved down Christopher Street, Patrick Daley, the longtime owner of Kettle of Fish Tavern, stood outside his legendary West Village bar, delighted by the festivities.
“I did not know [this was going to happen], but it’s great to see,” Daley said.
The Kettle’s bouncer, who has worked in the neighborhood for 20 years, agreed about the spontaneous, old-school revelry. “That was pretty cool. It made my night. That’s what the parade was, just people walking down the street being maniacs,” he said.