In 2007 interview, Fagan describes love of Halloween, birth of parade
By SARAH HINCKLEY Staff Writer | October 23,2008
Originally published in the Rutland Herald, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2007
Tom Fagan, 75, could be called a star among superheroes, a fan of phantoms or a heathen of Hallows Eve, but for many years most called him Mr. Halloween.
"I think if I pass over around Halloween time, I'll be riding in a casket in the parade," said Fagan outside his ghoulishly decorated room at the Loretto Home. "I'd be all for that, too."
It was Fagan's love of the October holiday that made the Rutland Halloween Parade into one of the most coveted costumed carnivals in the country. A couple from England is scheduling a visit to Vermont just to see the parade, according to one Shrewsbury inn owner.
Legendary tales of comic book characters caravanning past the marble and brick edifices of downtown were born from Fagan's passionate pen. Annually he would write a letter to Detective Comics, creators of Batman and the like, but it was the first that got the ball rolling.
"They printed that letter and that really kicked things off," said Fagan. "I was getting letters from all over the country. Each time they printed it we would get more people and more people."
Not only did his letters draw comic book character enthusiasts to the Vermont city, it also got Fagan and the parade featured in a number of strips. In 1972, the Detective Comic's Justice League of America, made up of Batman, Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern and Phantom Stranger, featured the group battling a demon incursion at the parade in Rutland.
Fagan's inspiration came from the first Rutland parade he watched with his daughter, in which William Ciofreddi, son of John Ciofreddi, then superintendent of the Rutland Recreation and Parks Department, dressed in a comic book costume.
"I maintain that he has to be the first comic book character," said Fagan about the start of the theatrical theme.
According to Fagan that first parade consisted of a couple of high school bands and an assortment of costumed children. But the man who had grown up loving Halloween wanted more and approached the elder Ciofreddi after the parade.
"That was good, John," Fagan remembers telling him, "but it could be better."
So, Ciofreddi handed the ball over to Fagan, appointing him parade general chairman. Fagan recollects the theme of the 1960 Rutland Halloween Parade was "Creatures in the Night."
"You could come as you wanted," said Fagan. "The parade was very well received. That was supposed to be the night that people could be who they secretly wished to be."
As it grew, there were floats from comic book companies such as Detective Comics, Marvel Comics, Comic Crusader. Even Madd magazine had representation. Fagan recalls at one point there being as many as 181 different comic characters represented at the parade and celebration.
"You'd be going down the street and you'd see Aunt Jemima standing next to Ronald Reagan," he said.
Not only were the characters coming to town, but those within the comic book industry who penned their fates also joined the fun. Writers and artists arrived in Rutland for the parade and an adjoining party thrown largely in their honor for a number of years.
"All sorts of great things happened," said Fagan. "We kept building it up and building it up. I don't know how many bands at one time… You had bands that were nothing but Batman… All I know is that the parade grew and grew and grew. I certainly hope it will continue for a long, long time."
Fagan was given a seat in the judge's station at last year's parade. More than 10,000 people attended the event last year; a record number of floats have registered this year.
"I was just amazed at the crowd last time," said Fagan, who has yet to miss the Rutland Halloween Parade. "I've always seen 'em one way or another."
With less than a week to go before another cast of characters parades through the streets of downtown, Fagan watched a classic horror film in his room. Bats hung from the ceiling, a wolf posed to howl at the full moon perched upon a table. Other colorful decorations seem to scream out that this man is haunted with a love for Halloween.
"I've been collecting decorations since grammar school," said Fagan. "I used to leave them up (longer than the holiday), much to the consternation of many."
Fagan, hunched with age, wore a pair of black jeans and an orange T-shirt with the words, "Sleep all day, Party all night," framing a human outline sporting batwings.
Fagan's love for the holiday goes back to when he was two or three years old. He had attended a big Halloween party at the Colony House in Rutland for children of low-income families, according to Fagan.
"I even got permission to stay up until midnight because that's when the witch was going to fly across the face of the moon," he said. "I love it when it's close to full-moon time."
He slept through the witch's journey that night and remembers being upset.
When asked if that child's curiosity has ever been quenched, Fagan replied, "Out of the corner of my eye I've seen her fly."
Contact Sarah Hinckley at firstname.lastname@example.org.