TOMS RIVER – “The Nightmare Before Christmas” opens with a song “This Is Halloween” encouraging “Everybody Make A Scene.” The people marching in the parade certainly listened to the lyrics.
Sirens blared as fire trucks – some made up to look like horror movie backdrops – lit up the night. A bicycle stunt show put people on the edge of their seats. Costumes ranged from cute to fearsome.
The song says “This is Halloween.” But what is Halloween really? What does it mean for the hundreds – if not thousands – of people who filled the downtown area on that night?
Part of Halloween is tradition. This is the 83rd time the parade was held, run by the Toms River Volunteer Fire Company No. 1. The first one was in 1919. However, a few years in the 1930s were missed due to lack of funds. There were also no parades during some years of WWII and the pandemic. The parade is billed as the second largest Halloween parade in the country, second only to Greenwich Village. The parade made its way from Highland Parkway, down Route 9, turning on Washington Street and ending at the county Administration Building.
Taylor Wentworth of Toms River and her sister Sandra Florentino had been coming for decades.
“I love it. It’s my favorite day of the year,” Wentworth said.
They were in costume – and so were the little ones with them. It was the first year for Florentino’s fiancé, and she hoped to make it a tradition for him, too.
Joseph Placente, sometimes referred to as “Mr. America,” showed that he marches in more than just the parades for the patriotic holidays.
As opposed to having a grand marshal for the parade, this year they honored all front line health care heroes. There were 11 walking and nine float divisions – with awards for first, second, and third place in categories.
Halloween is also a time to show off your creativity. People decorated their trucks and cars with graves and monsters. A zombie hunting ATV would follow a wheelchair made to look like the house with balloons from “Up.”
The local school bands showed off their skill playing songs like “Ghostbusters” and “Thriller.” They marched, dragging feet like zombies, cobwebs dangling from instruments.
Casey Sugrue, a 19-year-old from Toms River, had a home-made Hellraiser costume, complete with real nails coming off her headpiece.
Judy Waldy of Toms River positively glowed as a jellyfish with lights throughout the creature’s body and tentacles. Her blue dress was made to sparkle like the water reflecting the lights. She made the costume two years ago for a costume event for the Philharmonic.
“This is our first time,” she said of her visit with her husband Bill. They recently moved here from the New York area. They had heard through local friends just how big this is and wanted to see for themselves.
This was also the first time at the parade for Maureen Graham of Lavallette.
“I’ve always wanted to do this,” she said.
Her and her friends set up their seats at 11:30 a.m., wanting to make sure they got a spot. They went back home for a while and then came back from Lavallette at 5 p.m. for the parade that started at 7. While being photographed by the Toms River Times, a pair of orcs photobombed them. The orcs had been seen sparring with their weapons earlier by the parking garage.
There was a playful mood along the sidelines. Kids bounced around in anticipation. At one point, someone ran across Water Street, tagged a complete stranger, and shouted “olly olly oxen free!”
The local eateries were pumping out meals. People who parked their folding chairs for an hour or more beforehand carried long subs and pizza boxes.
Maybe Halloween can be seen as a way to examine what really scares us, even in a humorous way. Monsters weren’t under the cover of shadow – they were out in the open, marching in a parade, waving.
One little ghost girl zoomed from side to side on a hoverboard, eerily staring silently at people. Heidi Meyer and her coworkers went as spotted lanternfly swatters, bravely defending the area from those crop-destroying pests.
An hour into the parade, something scary really did happen – it began to rain. This put a damper on the spirits of those marching and watching.