Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Once again I am safely back at home, this time from Galena, Illinois, where one of the most amazing and humorous Halloween parades in the country takes place. It starts off with a remnant of World War II veterans forming a color guard – proud, not quite remembering the drill or unable to hear the commands from up front. It was sad to see how old they’re getting, how thin their ranks are getting. Then a couple of fire trucks, lights flashing, and once they started moving, setting off their sirens.

Then a marching unit made up of children. There is something adorable about a group of youngsters in widely varied costumes marching behind a horizontal banner naming their school, some of them wishing they were somewhere else, others waving like experienced politicians. Then comes a high school band, its members dressed as convicts, porn stars, devils, angels, ballet dancers, and ex-presidents. Only the drummers are good musicians – but they are really good.
It was a very chilly evening, with an icy breeze blowing, so when a wicker basket big enough to hold six people, if they were good friends, came along on the back of a trailer, I smiled. I’ve been to this parade before, so I knew it was one of the baskets that rides under a hot-air balloon. The balloon wasn’t there, but the burner was – the mechanism that fills the balloon with hot air. And there was someone in the basket, one hand on a blackened pipe sticking up in the center of the basket. WHOOOSH!! A huge orange plume shot three stories up in the air. I could feel the heat clear over on the curb. I joined the cheers, which encouraged the operator to let loose another blast. WHOOOOOSH!! Ahhhhh . . . warm! There were eight or ten baskets, each with a burner. One operator was blasting flames upward in time with the music of the band in front of him. The yellow-orange flame shot upward and, when he cut it off, a rolling ball of flame continued upward just for a second. Amazing!

The Men’s Precision Folding Lawn Chair Marching Unit was closer to the center of the parade rather than bringing up the rear as it did last time I saw them. About a dozen strong, they were all in shorts and muscle shirts, though some of them wore white or black long Johns under them. They formed a straight line, did a “wave” movement down the row with their lawn chairs and back up again, turned around, snapped the chairs open, sat down, stood up, snapped them shut, right-faced, and marched on. Silly but fun.

There were floats, all done by amateurs and often showing it. A very ragged corpse rising from a coffin, a gathering of the characters from Wizard of Oz (including one of those plastic toy houses found in many back yards serving as Dorothy’s house). An ambulance came by, its pristine white sides ornamented with spider webs and posters featuring vampires. There were costumed adults carrying buckets and bags of candy which they threw to the crowd.

Now, imagine all this going on along a narrow street lined with nineteenth-century brick shops – and one hotel – while trying to find someone in that crowd. The burner in a basket flares and you catch sight of him, but the next instant the flare is gone, leaving you dazzled, and meanwhile your quary vanishes.

Then, the parade over, you are walking up a side street when a shape comes toward you. It is a woman, all in black, and her dress has a huge skirt that brushes the ground. She is carrying a lantern on a pole, a lantern with a single candle in it. A big hat is on her head, with a heavy veil draped from it. She turns as if to speak to you, and there is only a black emptiness where her face should be.

That is “Annie Wiggins,” who owns a bed and breakfast in town, and she wears that costume to conduct night-time tours of Galena, telling ghostly stories about the various old houses as you pass them. Galena has lots of ghost stories to be told. Some of them are true.

I want this to be in the book Blackwork, which I will write if ever I finish Thai Die. All I have to do is find a reason for Betsy to be chasing someone in Galena, Illinois.

So long as I was in town, I did a book signing at Timeless Needle a beautiful (and expanding) needlework shop. The part of the building they expanded into used to be a bank, and the huge, walk-in safe is still there. The door weighs a ton, but moves smoothly on its hinges -- once you get it going.

I’ve been having a sleep problem lately. I want to stay up later, and so I don’t want to get up. This morning I woke up to my clock radio, shut it off and lay there awhile, thinking about how I didn’t want to get up. Next think I knew, it was six-thirty, too late to go to water aerobics. So I’ve been puttering around the apartment, then got awake enough to realize I hadn’t posted this.
Maybe it’s daylight savings time. I hate daylight savings time. If people want more daylight in the evening, fine. Everyone reset your clocks an hour early – AND LEAVE THEM THERE! This business of going on and going off is painful and aggravating. And yes, I know we get back the hour we donated in the spring, but it's still aggravating.


Camille Minichino said...

Monica always has so many things to inspire comments! I love the images of the parade ... something to think about for next year.

and I agree about daylight saving time ... bad idea!

annette said...

The Halloween parade sounds delightful. I live 30 minutes from New Orleans and all we ever see are Mardi Gras type paradesw, year round. A Halloween parade would be a welcome change of pace.

Monica Ferris said...

Camille, I wonder how many people agree with us about Daylight Savings Time. Maybe we could start a movement?

Annette, you should come up for the parade -- but make a hotel reservation early! The town is small and there are limited accommmodations. Maybe stay at a new B&B, Ryan House. Magnificent! And since it's owned by the same people as Annie Wiggins, you could still go on the ghost tour.