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Puppets and the Village Halloween Parade

At 7:00 pm last night, the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade kicked off for its 49th run at Canal Street and continued up 6th Avenue to many spectators’ delight. The parade, known for its robust attendance and participation, colorful costumes, and puppetry, was founded by Westbeth resident Ralph Lee in 1974. In 2019 we released our oral history with the celebrated puppeteer. After Lee’s departure from running the parade in 1985, there were many other artists and puppeteers that continued this legacy and ensured the annual parade persisted. 

Posters for the 1974-75 Village Halloween Parade. Courtesy of The New York Theatre Wire.

But back in the beginning, the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade was launched by Ralph Lee working in collaboration with Crystal Field and George Bartenieff of Theater for the New City. The musicians, actors, artists, and puppeteers participating in the original event went from house to house, greeting friends and families, so it was in some ways less of a parade as it is today than a procession. It wasn’t until the following year that the parade took on a longer route. 

The parade always contained life-size or larger puppets gracing the streets — first around Westbeth and then on 6th Avenue. Sophia Michahelles and Alex Kahn are two artists from Processional Arts Workshop which eventually took on the task of crafting ornate puppets for the Halloween Parade. First collaborating in 1998, Alex and Sophia presented their creation, “Metamorphosis” at the annual parade, which consisted of five insect-like figures operated by a crew of over thirty puppeteers. This particular performance was put on for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the parade, a time when many community members started to critique the transformation of this intimate tradition. However, the performance was still a massive success, and opened the door to even more outlandish projects for future parades. 

Puppets and performers for Metamorphosis, Processional Art Workshop’s first Halloween Parade, New York, New York, 1998. Photo courtesy of PAW.
Manasa Gudavalli for Washington Square News

Last night’s parade was another one for the ages, with a great turnout and fantastic costumes that turned a typical Monday night into a celebration of our spookiest holiday. Learn more about the work of Ralph Lee here, and check out our other oral histories featuring other well-known creatives of Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo.

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