By Donald Wittkowski
The Ocean City Police Department may have invented an ironclad way to prevent crime.
All it needs to do is to roll out its creepy Halloween float from time to time and criminals will surely be, as the saying goes, “scared straight.”
This nightmare-on-wheels rumbled down Asbury Avenue on Thursday night, giving thousands of spectators lining the sidewalks for the city’s 70th annual Halloween parade a spine-tingling thrill.
Decorated with skeletons, ghosts, tombstones and cobwebs, the big police truck-turned-float even had its own Hollywood-style special effects fog to make it that much scarier.
The crowds cheered as the police float and other elaborately decorated Halloween displays crawled along Asbury Avenue between Sixth and 11th streets in the heart of downtown. A procession of ghouls, ghosts, goblins and other spooky things added to the parade’s monstrously good time.
Dating to 1947, Ocean City’s Halloween parade is one of the oldest in the tri-state area and reflects the resort town’s family-friendly reputation, city officials say. It is sponsored by the Ocean City Exchange Club.
“It’s always been our tradition. Rain or shine, it brings everyone out,” Mayor Jay Gillian said of the parade.
Although last year’s parade unfolded under rainy skies, Thursday night’s mild autumn weather brought out big crowds.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” Gillian said. “It makes you feel really good.”
On Saturday, children will be invited back to Asbury Avenue for trick-or-treating at participating businesses between Sixth and 11th streets from 2 to 4 p.m.
The parade, meanwhile, stepped off at 7:15 p.m. The floats and hundreds of marchers were accompanied by Ocean City police cars and fire trucks flashing their lights and blaring their sirens.
Some of the Halloween displays consisted of parents and their children parading down the street in miniature floats. One tiny display featured two little vampire girls sitting in a toy wagon pulled by a mummy. It was called “I want my mummy!”
Among the bigger floats was a “ghost ship” inhabited by a crew of some of the most iconic characters in horror movie history, including Leatherface from the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” franchise.
Another float that depicted a haunted-ship theme included an elaborate light show and a booming soundtrack of spooky songs. At times, two columns of flames would shoot up in the air to accompany the music.
Among the participants in the parade were costumed skateboarders sponsored by the 7th Street Surf Shop. Somehow, 12-year-old skateboarder Ethan Dunn was able to zip down the sidewalk while wearing a Danny the Dinosaur costume that covered his whole body, including his head.
“I’ve got a little panel that I can look through,” Dunn said, explaining how he was able to see in his costume.
Ocean City resident Debbie Desantis brought her 3-year-old daughter, Ella Camino, to her first Halloween parade, even though it took some last-minute rushing with the little girl’s Minnie Mouse costume.
Desantis said she had forgotten about the parade until she was standing on the deck of her West Avenue home. After hearing the music and seeing so many lights, it dawned on her that it was parade night.
“I said to myself, ‘Oh my God, it’s the parade,’” Desantis said. “So, I rushed to get Ella in her costume and make here on time.”
Ella ran around excitedly as the parade was about to get underway. But it wasn’t the floats or marchers that thrilled her the most.
“What’s your favorite part of the parade?” her mother asked.
“Candy,” Ella exclaimed.
Desantis let out a laugh.
“I’ll have to put her in the Steve Harvey Show,” she said of her daughter.
Well, maybe Ella can show up for next year’s Halloween parade dressed in a Steve Harvey costume.