CEDAR RAPIDS — Skulls on poles. Skulls on gates and skulls on gravestones.
Skulls in grim reaper clothes, gleaming in the night. A rider with a giant skull, on a Brewhemia bike.
Killer clowns, jazzercizing ghouls, zombie Abe Lincoln ambling on.
But with so much of the macabre in sight at the first Cedar Rapids Halloween Parade (Monsters of the Night) on a bitterly cold Friday evening, it might be surprising that the two most prevalent feelings expressed by participants and crowd members were excitement and hope.
An hour before the parade, still cold but with some daylight left, Apple Creek Kennel owner Mary Pfoff worked with her team of nine employees to ready their float, one of 72 entries in the parade. The theme: classic movie monsters, with dog masks involved. Because, you know ... kennels.
Pfoff said her team jumped at the chance to join the parade, both to market the business but also to have fun. “Everyone was so wound up about Halloween.”
Nearby a Linn County Republican float van was parked, its many flags waving in the cold breeze. The Linn County Democrats, with noticeably fewer flags, was a stone's throw away, with a Shriners Band float in between looking slightly out of place.
Down the street, a racing car float was tangled in spider webs, another float was spangled with an Irish flag, a McGrath truck sported a reptilian face. In the distance, a witch on foot in billowing black robes crossed the railroad tracks behind the NewBo Market.
Across the street a Linn County LIFTS vehicle sat, decorated with killer clowns.
LIFTS driver Tanya Vitek, 38, who was set to don the costume of Pennywise the murderous clown from the movie “It,” noted that most people probably don’t associate LIFTS — which gives rides to elderly and disabled residents — with any of the above.
“We just picked it because it was the big thing for the year,” Vitek said, laughing. “We’re not killer clowns that go around being mean to people.”
Nearby, Heather Adams, 47, from the Corridor Hockey Association, was putting finishing touches on the organization’s float, featuring a goal (that she planned to defend) and zombie hockey players crawling from the ice. To her, the float provided a chance to let the community know hockey is played in the Corridor, with opening night for Cedar Rapids and Iowa City hockey players kicking off at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena on Saturday night.
“I don’t think people know we’re here,” Adams said, noting that she hopes 100 kids show up to a free hockey event coming up soon and, if she has her way, 200 onlookers show up for opening night.
Inside NewBo City Market, as a child in a giant T-rex costume passed by, Mission of Hope Executive Director Kim Reem shared another side of the parade. The proceeds, she said, would be going to fund Mission of Hope and the Willis Dady Shelter. Mission of Hope staff and residents were pitching in at the parade.
“On a night like tonight, we’ve got (homeless) people out there in weather like this,” she said. In this way, she added, “the parade has a purpose.”
Back to the parade, which was organized by the Terry-Durin Co. and hosted by the Czech Village New Bohemia Main Street District.
Darkness had fallen in the NewBo District, and throngs of onlookers crowded around Third Street SE and along the rest of the parade route to 16th Avenue and across the Bridge of Lions into Czech Village.
The Wendels of Swisher, appropriately bundled and huddled together, were among the onlookers. Why come out in such inclement weather?
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“It’s another family-oriented event that people can come to,” Chad Wendel said. “Haunted Houses for a three-year-old isn’t quite appropriate.”
The 3-year-old, Maverick, sat astride his father’s knee, shoving cheesie popcorn into mouth past his Captain America mask. He shared why he was excited to be at the parade.
“People are going to give me candy,” he said, in an exuberant whisper.
In the distance, sirens began to blare. The first of potentially many Halloween parades to come had begun.