Force behind city's Halloween parade, Tom Fagan, dies
By Brent Curtis
Herald Staff | October 23,2008
File / Rutland Herald
Tom Fagan, known as “Mr. Halloween” in Rutland,
helped begin the tradition of the Halloween parade in the city.
Tom Fagan was a number of things during a lifetime of newspaper reporting, raising a family and assuming legendary status in the comic book community.
But in Rutland, where the 76-year-old lived before his death on Tuesday, he was known as "Mr. Halloween" — the man who helped create an All-Hallows-Eve procession of ghosts, ghouls and costumed greats in the 1950s that endures today as the biggest Halloween parade in the state.
The parade, which Fagan helped start in 1959, was so important to him that just a year ago he said not even death would be a fitting excuse for missing the event.
"I think if I pass over around Halloween time, I'll be riding in a casket in the parade," he said. "I'd be all for that, too."
Fagan won't get that chance — even though his idea piqued the interest of a parade organizer who wondered about setting aside a place of honor for him and a longtime friend and former co-worker who said Fagan would have loved the idea of attending the event posthumously.
"He would have loved that and, of course, he would have wanted the casket open — that's the kind of ghoulish guy he was," Nick Marro said chuckling at the imagery.
Fagan's daughter, Deana Fagan, hadn't heard that particular request — although she said her father talked often about having a Viking-styled funeral. But she said a parade ride would be in keeping with his sensibilities.
Unfortunately, she said Halloween fell two days too late to work with the family's plans for a funeral and burial Wednesday.
"He probably would have been happy to be in the parade. It's kind of unfortunate that it didn't work out better. The middle of the week is a better time for everyone," she said.
Growing up with a father who collected comics, dressed as Batman on Halloween and who wore nothing but black clothing the rest of the year, Deana Fagan said she got to know all of her father's eccentricities and obsessions.
As a young girl and teenager, she helped design and paint the backgrounds of Halloween Parade floats. Almost a half century later, she had to maneuver around a room decorated with superhero and monster memorabilia of all sorts during visits with her father at Loretto Home in Rutland.
Even her name is a reflection of her father's passions — Deana is a play on James Dean, a Fagan idol whose hairstyle he imitated.
"In some ways, he never stopped being a child," she said. "He enjoyed having fun. He didn't think he had to be a certain way just because of his age … He's one of those people who made involvement in comics more likely for an adult. He made it legitimate."
That legitimacy came from the seriousness with which Fagan took his craft as a reporter and editor at the Rutland Herald, where he covered the police and City Hall beats for years.
The dichotomy of professional responsibility with a child-like curiosity and wonder might seem like an odd combination.
But in a newsroom filled with a cast of characters, Fagan fit in just fine, according to former co-worker Harry Levins.
Levins, who now works for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said in an e-mail Wednesday that "Newsrooms of that era held many an eccentric, but Tom rose above mere eccentricity."
Some of the stories he recalled from the old days at the newspaper included "in jokes" sneaked into the newspaper and fictional reports — including a false wedding announcement that Fagan once snuck into the paper announcing the engagement of a girl named "Hook" to a man named "Fish."
"Naturally, the notice was headed 'Fish-Hook,'" Levins wrote. "Publisher Bob Mitchell sent a note to the newsroom (after publication) in which he said that the Fishes were moving to Omaha, Neb., and would never be heard from again."
Marro said Fagan was with him "watching for cops" when, as a young man, he hung 25 feet in the air off the Pine Street overpass to spray paint the eponymous words "Welcome to Happy Valley" on the gateway to the city's southwest neighborhood.
But for all the colorful candid stories about Fagan, there are an equal number of professional tales.
"In Bennett's absence, Tom would function as city editor," Levins wrote. "He was marvelously patient with his young crew, and between puffs on his ever-present Lucky Strike, he would instruct us on court procedure, Rutland's history and the finer points of the English language."
Marro described Fagan as a "wonderful reporter" who had a sense of humor and also "a dark side that led him to the Halloween parade."
Former Herald editor Kendall Wild said Fagan was a good reporter who not only cared about his work, but about the community he lived in.
In that sense, the parade, which celebrates its 49th year next Friday, represents his most crowning achievement.
The annual event attracted more than 10,000 people last year and has been visited by caped crusaders sent by DC Comics and Marvel Comics — two heavyweights in the comic world.
Perhaps an even bigger distinction and honor, both the Rutland parade and Fagan have appeared in the pages of such comics as "Batman" and "The Avengers."
"Without Tom, there wouldn't be a Halloween parade in Rutland," Marro said. "That's his legacy."
Contact Brent Curtis at firstname.lastname@example.org.