Exploring Albany's inglorious past and dubious future

Albany’s Fantastic Halloween Carnival: Two Years of Mirth and Magic

This is a recounting of Albany’s “All-Hallowe’en Carnivals” from a 1933 Times-Union article. The citywide celebrations were held only two years – 1904 and 1905. This article tried (unsuccessfully, alas) to make the case for giving it another go.

In The End... All You Really Have Is Memories

By Zoe B. Fales
The Times-Union, October 1, 1933

Drawing near is All Hallow’s Eve, the witching night when fairies and pixies and goblins come into the realm of reality and join human folk in making high carnival to speed the parting year, when supernatural influences are abroad, and the whole course of nature turns topy-turvey.

Talk grows, as the season progresses, of reviving Albany’s gigantic Hallowe’en carnival, which flashed into spectacular being for two successive years and then faded.

Turn back the pages of time for nearly 30 years. See how the conservative old Dutch city put on fool’s clothing for a night while witch fires glowed in the valley, how the city fathers softened their haughty mien and winked at levity that flourished unrestrained.

WAY BACK IN 1904

As the sun broke through the mists low on the Hudson river, in the early hours of October 31, 1904, Albany emerged from within doors. Not the Albany that had retired the night before, but a new populace that had cast care to the four winds, put on the motley black and orange of the “little folk,” doffed dignity for a space and returned to the naivete of their forefathers.

Ceremony went hand in hand with hilarity, and townspeople ran the streets with country folk who had come from far and near, ail converging on the capital for the coronation of Queen Titania, “undoubted Queen of All Hallow E’en.”

Programs preserved by A. B. Kiernan, one of the moving spirits in the celebration, and the yellowed, dusty files of The Times-Union, which now proposes the plan to revive the carnival, tell the story.

souvenir program

Miss Elsie Marie Smith was picked as queen of beauty to reign as Titania over her loyal subjects-for-a-day.

queen titania sitting

The stage was set for the spectacular coronation, with ladies in waiting, courtiers and all the officials of a royal court gathered with hundreds of “five hundred chorus girls, groups of flower girls, fairies, Spanish dancers, butterflies and girls representing flowers.”

After the ceremonies George D. Babbitt, as president of the association, forming in brilliant procession, proceeded in turn to the four gates of the city, to “kick open the gates of revelry,” in the name of her Majesty the Queen, who declared the carnival open.

GRAND MASKED PAGEANT

All this was mere preliminary. Entertainment continued throughout the day, building excitement and anticipation of the Grand masked Pageant after dark on the city streets. Floats were entered for the pageant by business houses and individuals and exceeded the wildest imagination in brilliance. And running beside the procession, dancing to the blaring music of the bands, were Albany’s youth and beauty, timid souls and bold alike, caught up in the spirit of the day, shouting, singing, tooting horns, blowing whistles, throwing themselves into the revelry with abandon, finding protection and mystery and glamour in the masks that shielded the identity of swain and belle. Young ardor shy glances, coquetry, pursuit, flight, gay laughter, flashing smiles, all playing the Game of Hearts.

1905 postcard

“These hours will be most auspicious for the exchange of love tokens and a display of your unexcelled gallantry,” proclaimed Her Royal and most lenient Highness. “See to it that no fair maidens within the range of your glances go a-pining for lack of tender consideration.

“My Maids of honor and the Ladies of My Court – When the night has fallen the hours will be most favorable to the reading of your fate. Amiable ghosts will walk and none but good witches shall exercise their power, and you shall thus be able to consult their advice and learn whom you shall wed. Your mothers and grandmothers were wont to try ancient and honorable tricks on Al Hallowe’en. These are still the fashion and I declare that the looking glass and taper, the mystical ball of yarn and all the other charms shall be more potent than ever this night.

program and marches

“Puck, My Little Messenger – I command you to be most active in stirring up the amatory fires of youths and maidens. See to it that you work no irreparable mischief, but allow no languishing in corners or tardy lovers in my court and city.”

So, then the troops of fairies and witches and ghosts had entered through the open gates, the merry-mad citizenry abandoned itself to their gay influence, and heeding the admonition of the queen, “rubbed elbows with clown and harlequin and let their heels be tickled by the spirit of revelry.”

1905 queen and court

GREAT GATHERING

Into the wee hours of the morning the carnival continued spurred, the newspaper accounts reported, “by a great gathering of young men and women bent on pleasure, who were out to play and prank and to accept the part of victim if the occasion so ordained.” Always within the law, however, because “there was an absence of flour, lamp-black, charcoal, and other things that the police had forbidden.”

See the names of some of the men who carried the festival to high success – many of whose names mean prosperity and achievement in Albany today – 29 years later – A. B. Kiernan, Ben V. Smith, T. Edward Cavanaugh, Gideon Hawley, Edward V. Dearstyne, Frederick A. Danker, Malcolm S. Fearey, F. Palmer Gavit, Joseph J. Judd, Marcus T. Reynolds, Charles L.A. Whitney, James B. Lyon, James H. Milliard, Edward R. Anker, Charles M. Winchester Sr., Julius Obernaus – these are just a few, joined by scores more.

There was the thrill of the automobile parade, 60 automobiles from the Albany Area! All elaborately and grotesquely decorated. They represented the 100 or more automobiles familiar on the streets of Albany and the surrounding country. Every owner had an invitation.

swan float

“The Queen and her court had been invited to ride and accepted,” the press reported. “The Queen was carried in the machine of Matthew Van Alstyne, one of the largest touring cabs in this section.”

1905 auto float

Wide comment greeted the float of Chauncey D. Hakes, “the popular showman,” which was mounted on an auto and represented the old woman in the shoe.

Prizes: $100 for the most elaborate float, won by Mr. Van Alstyne; many others mounting to a grand total of more than $500. Competition, excitement, mystery, entertainment, jollity, thrills, enthusiasm, good-fellowship.

prizes

Vision another such celebration in the year 1933. May the murmur that now proposes it grow to clamor for revival of a traditional All Hallow E’En!

1904 program

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