Parade grand marshals share their tales of terror
As the Portsmouth Halloween Parade marches into its 22nd year, one wonders what freakish new twists we’ll witness. Already we’ve seen “Thriller” dances and roller derbies, zombie hordes and vampire cults, rockabilly superheroes and Tim Burton beasties. How can we possibly top the ghastly spectacles of years gone by?
Ah, but let us not underestimate the devilishly creative spirit of this parade and its participants. It is not a contest; we are not trying to out-freak parades past. Like snowflakes in Hell, each parade is unique, and each vanishes quickly. And just as sure as your blood is hot and red, you can be certain that you will see things worth seeing.
Still, in the days and nights leading up to Halloween, it’s fun to recall the parades that have come before. The PHP introduced its first Grand Marshal in 2003 and has selected a uniquely deranged honoree (or group of honorees) every year since. The Sound invited PHP Grand Marshals past and present to share the stories behind their costumes and reminisce about the revelry of their years at the helm. Their tales are listed chronologically below.
This year’s Grand Marshal is Diana Kirkpatrick, matron of Portsmouth’s infamous Haunted Barn. She’s keeping mum about her costume plans this year, but she did share a pre-Halloween message. You can learn more about Kirkpatrick and her Haunted Barn here.
The 22nd annual Portsmouth Halloween Parade takes place Monday, Oct. 31, starting at 7 p.m. in downtown Portsmouth. For more details on the all-inclusive, volunteer-run, family-friendly event, click here.
2003 Grand Marshal
I was the first Grand Marshal and decided to make a spider-web umbrella out of a broken umbrella that I had bought in New Orleans. I repaired the ribs, made the web, placed a skull on the ferrule, and mounted a bat on spring wire to make it seem that the bat was flying above me. The costume I made is an interpretation of the Baron Samedi from Haitian Voodou. He is the leader of the Guédé, the collective spirits of the dead. A few years later I created a spider out of a broken travel umbrella to replace the bat. I’ve been told that people look for my character year after year, so The Baron has paraded with the umbrella all but three years since.
2004 Grand Marshal
My costume was a Lollipop Kid from “The Wizard of Oz.” To be honest, when I was a child they freaked me out, thrusting lollipops at the screen, singing, etc. When I made the costume I couldn’t find the striped hosiery I wanted, resulting in spray-painting my own (damn sexy). I made a giant lollipop out of a plank of wood and paint. Gotta say, thinking about what materials to make a costume out of is important. The giant wooden lollipop was crazy top heavy, so a balancing act was in order. That year no one gave me a map to lead, so we went a little astray.
2005 Grand Marshal
Like a crooked politician, I bought my position. I was standing in front of the post office drinking some Dancing Goats with Mr. Fyremonkey. The Parade Division was small and fierce in those days, but short a hundred bucks or so. I asked, if I came up with the money, could I be the Grand Marshal? Mr. Fyremonkey was dumb enough to say yes. I wore a suit or a tuxedo that night and fancy new shoes. Top hat and the coveted Grand Marshal sash. I danced and twirled and waved elegantly at the massive crowd in Market Square. The next day, the Parade Division found out that I had purchased my position. Fyremonkey and I were beheaded.
2007 Grand Marshal
In 2007, I was asked to marshal the Halloween parade. My idea was to be Donald Trumpet, a power tie-sporting mercurial gasbag with a trumpet. I held a megaphone and a trumpet and shouted disparaging things about Rosie O’Donnell and fired people. I would then play a little jazz lick on my horn. At my side, dressed in sparkling gold lamé body suit, was my trophy wife, Jaime Alger, and leading the way were two flag bearers, Mickey Blanchette and Jen Brooks, each of whom wore a shirt that read “Yes Man.” So, like that chicken-hearted polemicist Mr. Trump, I appeared complete with sycophants and all of the artificial trappings of false validation, a big flip of the bird to one of the most insecure public figures on the planet.
2008 Grand Marshal
I did sort of a devil Elvis, sort of satanic Elvis. It’s very hard to find a good-looking Elvis Presley costume, so I got one that was kind of an Elvis costume, but kind of more of a devil type thing. And then my wife and I expanded upon it by adding a red and gold outfit. I put some lightning bolts on it, TCB and some Elvis Presley type of things.
There wasn’t any real particular theme when I was the Grand Marshal. I did have marching with me Gary Sredzienski and The Serfs, and I believe he was dressed as a gorilla playing the accordion. And Chris Decato had an electric guitar with a small Pignose amp that was battery-powered and made a little bit of noise. I had a bullhorn that I didn’t use that much. I’m kind of famous for being able to sing really loud. So we didn’t rehearse or anything, we just kind of winged it as we were walking along. I think we did “That’s Alright Mama” by Elvis Presley, and “When the Saints Go Marching In” a few dozen times, because that seemed to be something that people enjoyed and responded to.
One thing that was interesting, I don’t think I wore my glasses as part of the costume, because Elvis didn’t wear glasses. There’s a police car in front of you and it was night, and I don’t have great night vision, or great vision to begin with, and the flashing blue lights were creating a little bit of havoc with my eyes, making me see things that I thought maybe I had taken something. That was pretty interesting.
It was a lot of fun. It was quite an experience. When we turned the corner into Market Square by the brewery, my god, there was a lot of people. I’ve performed in rock bands for quite a few people before, but I don’t think I’ve ever had that many people cheering for me.
2009 Grand Marshal
As a person of limited imagination, all I could come up with for a costume was a larger-than-life parody of the front page of the Award-Winning Local Daily, which I had printed on corrugated plastic and wore it as a signboard. Mimicking the look of the original wasn’t so hard; surpassing the absurdity of its headlines… well, I tried. The costume had two saving graces: a black leather face mask by Trevor Bartlett, and the accompaniment of the ever-charming Megan Stelzer, in the persona of a news urchin, wearing knee pants and a scally cap, and toting a genuine Fowle News newspaper bag.
2010 co-Grand Marshal with Dane Leeman and the cast of “Gay Bride of Frankenstein”
I wore no costume; I am a costume. My rock musical “Gay Bride of Frankenstein” was chosen as Grand Marshal and my co-creator Dane Leeman and I shared marching duties. Heh, duties. “Gay Bride” is a celebration of not only Halloween but of freaks, geeks, awkwards, weirdos, fanboys, fangirls, coming of age, coming out of the closet, and coming back from the dead — everything I imagine the Seacoast represents. We are still so humbled to have had the honor of leading the parade, something we will never forget.
2011 Grand Marshal
My costume was important, but it was secondary. The honor of leading the parade was tangible. I wore it like a crown and felt it in my heart, which filled in a manner not unlike the Grinch’s, swelling three sizes.
I remember thinking that our small city was about to let loose something that lurked quietly within it. Every other day here our reality unfolded to a backdrop of history. Our heritage called to us from the soaring eaves of well-preserved architecture and whispered from the docks along the shoreline. But tonight we would craft a storybook wonder that would bring another dimension to the streets. We would populate the city with a vast and vibrant array of characters, some never before imagined.
That’s where my costume comes in. I wanted to be something that didn’t exist yet in the stories I knew — and as a children’s librarian, I knew a lot of them. I had been inspired by horrible creatures called giant soul crabs in a new-at-the-time fantasy series called “The Books of Umber.” When they opened their mouths, the voices of those they’d eaten over the centuries — men and women, old and young — would call out asking, “Who are ye?” or “What year is it man?”
I’d also recently seen a picture in Vogue of a clothing designer who made a dress with a tentacled skirt. So I blended the glamour and the horror to come up with a white, fox-like creature with tentacles, at the end of which were faces representing those she’d eaten.
Crafting such a beast would take a village. Mine was led by vintage clothing-store owner Jodie Curtis and mask-maker Trevor Bartlett. They brought the vision to life.
I marched with a crew of family and friends, including local musicians, but ended up being escorted by two impressive gargoyles, crafted and worn by Southern Maine artist Shane Ruff and his partner Walt Egnew. I ordered a dozen roses dyed black from Ambrosia Gardens and gave them out to people along the route.
2012 Grand Marshal
In 2012, the rockabilly Batman drawings of Italian artist Denis Medri went viral, inspiring a large crew of individuals to step from the Halloween shadows in their own rockabilly versions of Batman’s Rogues Gallery. I led the gang as rockabilly Superman with a bunch of found pieces, including a Superman belt buckle that I occasionally wear to this day. The real hero was my wife, Danielle, who not only made her Superwoman skirt and spray painted her red leather jacket, but also led the parade at my side on vintage roller skates.
2013 co-Grand Marshal with Carol Woodman and the Jumbo Circus Peanuts
October 2013 was a grand month. Halloween is really a month-long celebration in this area, and Carol Woodman and I have deep roots in it. Our beloved musical family, the Jumbo Circus Peanuts, in embryonic form, made its first appearance at the first Portsmouth Halloween Parade, and we have been hosting fundraising parties since year three. We’ve worked with current PHP Grand Marshal Diana Kirkpatrick on her Haunted Barn since its inception, and I’ve been doing Halloween specials on my show at WUNH for decades. We were thrilled when the parade committee asked us to be co-Grand Marshals and immediately decided to do a Mardi Gras/Day of the Dead theme.
It was a month of PHP-related revelry and late nights watching the Red Sox march to the World Series. Carol painstakingly painted the bones on our thrift-store-bought vintage clothes over the course of a week and, as usual, did a much better job with her makeup.
What put Halloween night over the top was the good folks at Port City Makerspace mounting a powerful sound system on a large tricycle and following us with a playlist of Mardi Gras anthems and New Orleans funk. The first song came on as we turned the corner onto Marcy Street, a rocking version of Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina,” and our feet barely touched the ground for the next hour.
2014 Grand Marshal
As a long-time behind-the-scenes PHP organizer, and one of those whose job it had been for many years to recruit and compel the parade’s Grand Marshals, I’ll tell you there are roughly two rules to the process of becoming one: A) One may not ask for it; and B) When asked, one may not say no. I didn’t ask for it, but when my fellow minions mutinied and told me I’d been promoted, I couldn’t rightly say no. There are rules.
My year was 2014, the 20th Portsmouth Halloween Parade. My plan was to go big. Tapping into my own personal mythology of trashy grindhouse movies, rough-hewn do-it-yourself spirit, and good ol’ P-town punk grit, I gathered friends, actors, inventors, dancers, drummers, roller-derby girls — all the authentic energy I could possibly generate with the things I love about the people in this town. Together we launched “The Rockatansky Rolling Roadshow: A Mad Max Carnivale,” a howling whirlwind of blood, leather, mud and feathers, iron, dust and armor and rust. They dragged me (or did I drag them?), in full filthy leathers as a battered “Mad” Max Rockatansky, by the neck through the streets with hemp ropes salvaged from The Music Hall. We made a furious noise.
2015 Grand Marshal
In 2015 I marched as Jack Skellington, with my wife Sarah — who created all our costumes — as Patchwork Sally, and our kids Eli and Izzy as Lock and Shock (Barrel came down with the plague). Jack has a special place in our family’s pumpkin-shaped hearts. He is Halloween personified: mischievous, brilliant, and playful. Being Grand Marshal was an invitation to insert a little of that spirit all through my year with the sash. On the night of the parade, we gathered a crewe of Burton’s Beasties. Among them Beetlejuice, Large Marge, and Edward Scissorhands. We walked, crawled, dragged, and leapt our way through town at the head of an enormous, seething horde. This is Halloween!
2016 Grand Marshal
I just want to say how excited I am to be the Grand Marshal of the Portsmouth Halloween Parade this year. It’s a great honor, and I’m sure it will be a lot of fun! I’ve lived here for 25 years now, and the Halloween Parade is such a wonderful part of the community. It brings everyone out and creates a real feeling of community. I would like to thank the parade committee for selecting me. I’ll do my best to make them proud!