Ghosts of Halloween past

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.

Bruce Pingree

2003 Grand Marshal

Bruce Pingree Portsmouth Halloween Parade

Bruce Pingree as the Baron Samedi in 2003.

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.

Dan Blakeslee

2004 Grand Marshal

Dan Blakeslee Portsmouth Halloween Parade

Dan Blakeslee as a Lollipop Kid in 2004.

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.

Pete Duchesne

2005 Grand Marshal

Pete Duchesne Portsmouth Halloween Parade

Pete Duchesne (left) and Mark Adams at a PHP event at the Coat of Arms. photo by Denise Wheeler

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.

Chris Elliott

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.

Tom Colletta

2008 Grand Marshal

Tom Colletta Portsmouth Halloween Parade

Tom Colletta as Devil Elvis at the 2008 parade.

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.

Steve Fowle

2009 Grand Marshal