New York City’s best Halloween traditions

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Come late October, eeriness abounds in New York City: leaves crackle underfoot, trees sigh in the wind, and darkness creeps in earlier and earlier. Away from the bright lights of Times Square, the following activities invite locals and visitors alike to savor the frightful spirits of the year’s darkest holiday. Wa-haaa-haaaaaaaa!

The Procession of the Ghouls at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine
On October 29, demonic forces will take over this massive and still unfinished Gothic cathedral in Morningside Heights. Following a screening of a classic silent horror film (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari this year) with live organ accompaniment, a procession of devils, imps, and goblins marches through the nave, waving their claws and gnashing their fangs at delighted attendees. The intricately designed costumes and ominous musical score pay homage to Halloween’s serious roots; tradition dictates that giving evil a chance to come out and play will help keep it away the rest of the year.

Buy your tickets online, and then go early to get an aisle seat for the best view. The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is on Amsterdam Avenue at 112th Street. Stay at On the Ave and take the 1 train uptown to the 110th Street stop.

Candlelight Ghost Tours at the Merchant’s House Museum
New York changes so relentlessly that its history often slips away before anyone realizes it. That’s why the Merchant’s House Museum is such a treasure. This East Village house, built in 1832, remains as it was in the mid-nineteenth century, making it a veritable time machine. Naturally, it has ghosts, and the museum makes the most of them, leading visitors through the creaky old building by candlelight while recounting its haunted history. Last time we were there, a guide told the story of a museum staffer who saw a translucent lady in Victorian mourning dress closing the curtains in the drawing room and crying quietly. “I know this story is true,” he said, “because the guide was me.” Spooky stuff.

The Bowery Hotel and the Cooper Square Hotel are both just steps away from the Merchant’s House Museum.

Halloween at Green-Wood Cemetery
One of the city’s largest and loveliest cemeteries, Green-Wood boasts many notable permanent residents: Margaret Sanger, Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Morse, Louis Tiffany, and so on. But also resting there are some less estimable figures, like Joey Gallo, “Bill the Butcher” Poole, and Albert Anastasia of Murder, Inc. Throughout Halloween weekend, guided tours reveal the dark side of Green-Wood and the mysterious circumstances and horrifying incidents that led to the deaths of a few of the 500,000 corpses underfoot. (Yes, you read that number right: more than half a million people are buried here. That makes for a lot of restless spirits.)

The cemetery is at the 25th Street stop of the R subway line in Brooklyn. The Ace Hotel is one block from the R train.

The Greenwich Village Halloween Parade
With more than 50,000 participants and 2 million onlookers (plus another million TV viewers), the Halloween Parade is a monster — and one of the high points of the New York Halloween calendar. Among its highlights are the giant articulated puppets, such as a life-size model of a tyrannosaurus and towering glowing caterpillars, as well as the wildly inventive, generally risque costumes of those marching. The parade welcomes anyone in costume who wants to join in, so if you have an idea and some supplies, head to Spring Street and Sixth Avenue in the early evening on the 31st.

The just-opened Trump Soho is right around the corner from the parade’s staging area.

Boo at the Zoo
If your fellow travelers are too young for candlelit ghost tours and demonic processionals, fear not: the Bronx Zoo is a great Halloween destination for families. Every weekend in October, the zoo hosts special events for the holiday, including pumpkin carving demonstrations, hay rides, a (positively adorable) costume parade, and more. Kids in costumes get in free, and the gorgeous crisp weather means that you’re more likely to see animals up and about than in the sweltering days of summer.

The Bronx Zoo is easily reach via the subway or the BxM11 express bus, which runs right past the Hotel Roger Williams.

–-Jessica Allen and Garrett Ziegler of We Heart New York

[Photo credit: Flickr/gsz (Garrett Ziegler)]

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