The King Frost Parade is a Halloween parade held for more than fifty years in my hometown of Hamburg, PA. When we were kids, the parade seemed huge - it felt like was four hours long, with more than thirty high school bands, hundreds of floats like the "Haunted Hauler", decorated trucks and cars, and the Reading Motorcycle Drill Team. At least that is how we remember it. Today, it's a lot smaller, but still an important part of autumn in Hamburg. For several years I have photographed this annual tradition - during the daylong preparation and the two-hour climax of the parade itself.
The Town Gets Ready
I find the hours leading up to the parade as interesting as the parade itself - the town looks quiet, almost deserted, in the harsh late October sunlight. Areas of broken sidewalk have been reserved since early morning - using chairs, ropes, benches, even tires - to stake a claim to the best seats in the house. The town becomes a stage for the parade just waiting for the actors and audience to arrive.
The Vendors Take Their Place
The food trucks start entering town by 3pm and the long process of opening the serving windows, hanging signs, starting the generators, and slicing potatoes begins. The toy vendors take hours to attach cheap plastic Star Wars and SpongeBob inflatables to sticks and carefully place them in a shopping cart filling every available inch of space. They race to the far corners of the parade route and walk the streets for two hours before the parade. By the time the last division is done, the carts full of toys will have vanished as if they were never there.
The Actors and Audience Arrive
People start arriving - alone and in groups - taking their places on the stage and in the audience. The actors congregate at the north end of town where the parade begins. The audience is spread out across the town - arriving in their seats early, getting food, and some just observing the entire production.
At 7pm sharp, on the last Saturday in October, the night daylight savings time ends, the siren at the firehouse begins its long rising wail into the crisp night air. The parade, after more than fifty similar beginnings, is about to start and a couple thousand people stand ready to see what this year brings. It will only take about 15 minutes for the parade to reach the intersection of Third and State, right in front of the funnel cake truck. Led off by the hometown band, it will be another 30 or 40 minutes until it reaches Fourth and State - enough time to line up for hot soup, cheese steaks, pizza, and french fries.