This Halloween, children and adults of all ages will gather in front of Center School in Mattapoisett to participate in what has become a tradition that goes back quite some time. Just when it all started has been anyone’s guess. In 1983, Selectman John DeCosta thought the parade had started in 1965 under the direction of Police Chief Alden Kinney. In 1992, the Wanderer noted that the parade had been going on for the last 30 years, placing the parade's origin at about 1962.
In 1996, Police Chief James Moran noted that the parade had been going on for “over 35 years.” In 2003, the Board of Selectmen asked if anyone knew how the parade tradition started to share the information. A couple of the board members knew it had been going on for over 50 years. In 2014, the “over 50 years” mark was again noted by Police Chief Mary Lyons in a letter to the editor reminding people of the upcoming event.
The Mattapoisett Halloween Parade tradition goes back much further than 50 years and seems to have been started by one man who gathered and led costumed children through the streets of Mattapoisett with a drum.
Abraham Skidmore was born in 1878 in Oxford, North Carolina, to Ferry Skidmore and Jinny Nelson, who may have been former slaves. Not much is known about his early life other than he left North Carolina for Somerville, New Jersey, before coming to New Bedford and then settling in Mattapoisett by 1899.
Skidmore worked as a barber in New Bedford, where he may have met Anna Calhoun. Anna was from Newport, Rhode Island, where she once worked as a servant at the U.S. Naval War College. In 1903, Abraham and Anna married in New Bedford. By this time, Abraham was cutting hair in Mattapoisett and becoming popular with children in town. At some point, he picked up playing drums and organized several bands over the years. In addition to playing in bands, he took his drum to the streets and was known for organizing and leading parades.
It was in October 1949 that about 125 children, along with their parents, gathered outside of Abraham’s barber shop near Center School. The children were “dressed as witches, ghosts, and all the other usual characters.” Abraham began banging on his drum and led the children on a march.
The parents lined the streets, and the children marched alone except for the children who “were too small to go unattended.” Those children’s parents would join them in the march. Abraham led the children down Church Street toward Main Street. Once the parade got to Main Street, Abraham took a left turn down Water Street and march the children on Water Street to North Street back to Church Street, leading them back to his barber shop. The children were then dispersed to attend Halloween parties. Abraham Skidmore and the 125 children and their parents had just taken part in a tradition that is still going on in Mattapoisett 73 years later.
The next year the parade had grown to about 300 children and followed the same route as the previous year, with parents carrying red flares at the head and rear of the parade. At the lead of the parade was, once again, Abraham Skidmore. After the parade, a party was held for the children at the Congregation Church, where they played games and had refreshments. The older children, presumably junior high and high school kids, had a party at Town Hall, where they participated in square dancing and games. Twelve children received prizes in a costume judging contest.
By 1954 the parade was considered a tradition, and Skidmore once again led cowboys, Dutch girls, black cats, Mickey Mouse, and many other costumed children through the streets on Halloween. Later that fall, Skidmore became sick with pneumonia. In December, he was admitted to Tobey Hospital in Wareham. He never recovered. Abraham Skidmore passed away at age 76, leaving behind a tradition that would continue to thrill children for generations to come.
If there were any questions about the fate of the parade, they were answered quickly. In 1955 the parade was sponsored by the Mattapoisett Lions Club and was escorted by the auxiliary police. Taking over the drumming at the lead of the parade was Al Morgado, also a barber that now worked out of Abraham’s old shop.
The parade continued throughout the 1950s in much the same manner, with Al Morgado drumming at the lead of the parade and the children taking part in parties at various locations. Preschoolers and first graders usually partied at the Congregational Church, second and third graders went to St. Anthony’s Church, and the fourth and fifth graders had their party at Center School. In contrast, the junior and senior high school students went to Town Hall.
Costume contests were held and were sometimes judged for the prettiest, most handsome boy, most handsome girl, funniest, most original, and most horrible. Typical costumes worn by the children during that time were ghosts, hobgoblins, rabbits, Dutch girls, devils, ballerinas, and Mickey Mouse.
The 1960s began to show slight changes to the parade. Early in the decade, there was a modification to the parade route, which started in the usual spot near Center School on Church Street and then headed north on Pearl Street. At Tobey Lane, the parade headed west and dropped off preschoolers at a youth center for their party. The parade would continue on to Main Street and then to Depot Street, where the first graders were left off at the American Legion Hall. The second and third graders went to Town Hall while the parade continued along Church Street, where the 4th, 5th, and 6th graders went to Center School, and the 7th through 12th graders went to the Congregational Church for their respective community parties.
Costume contests were typically held at these community parties, and 1962 was the first time it was noted that the parade was canceled due to rain. Costumes also began to change from the traditional Halloween costumes of the 1950s with costumes such as the Great Pumpkin, Phyllis Diller, Lobsters in a Trap, hippies, Ned’s Point Lighthouse, the Town Dump and now and then, a pack of cigarettes.
The 1960s also saw the addition of the drum and bugle corps from New Bedford Post 1 or Fairhaven Post 166 leading the parade replacing Al Morgado. The American Legion Post bands were sometimes accompanied by the Plymouth Voiture 40 and 8 Locomotive. It isn’t known how long the American Legion posts led the parade, but at some point in the 1970s, the Old Rochester Regional High School Band led the parade and may have done so throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s.
By 1964, the parade began taking on its modern shape. The parade route reverted back to its original route. The community parties were canceled that year, and instead, the parade ended at Center School, where kids were treated to apples, ice cream, and candy bars. There is no indication there was a costume contest that year.
The 1965 parade was much the same as the 1964 parade. However, that year’s parade had an upsetting moment when “teenage drivers from Fairhaven” sped through the village, throwing lit firecrackers from their cars. It was noted that “malicious damage… can be attributed to this Fairhaven group whose behavior was very objectionable.”
If the costume contest didn’t take place for a couple of years, it was back by 1966 with prizes of bicycles and tricycles awarded. There was even a $2.00 consolation prize. There were treats of candy, apples, and ice cream served in the Center School cafeteria.
Bicycles and tricycles continued to be awarded to costume contest winners in the 1970s with costumes such as Ivory Soap bubbles, Land-O-Lakes butter, Mama Leone, and the Mattapoisett Theater.
Though no known incidents had occurred, there were concerns in 1976 for children “stumbling around town in a hard-to-see out of the store-bought mask.” This prompted third-grade teacher Pat Sylvia to organize a crew of face painters to paint masks on children at Center School before the parade.
Also, 1976 was possibly the only year the parade did not take place on Halloween. Due to inclement weather, the parade took place on November 1st.
Through much of the 1970s, the parade route continued unchanged, leaving Center School on Church Street toward Main Street and then heading down Water Street to North Street, where it finished at Center School. In 1977, a modification was made to the parade. Instead of heading up North Street, the parade would go from Water Street to Barstow Street and back to Center School, which is the present-day route.
The end of the 1970s brought more modern prizes to the costume contents. In addition to the popular bicycle prizes, AM/FM radios were awarded to some winners.
The 1980s saw more signs of changing times. In 1982 it was noted that Halloween “had been much quieter as parents exercised caution and confined children’s activity mainly to the parade and police party.”
The Police Department also began publishing safety tips such as wearing light-colored costumes, taking masks off before crossing streets, traveling in groups with older siblings or parents, walking facing traffic when sidewalks were unavailable, and not eating candy until inspecting it at home.
While there had been no known incidents involving the safety of local children or reports of tampered candy, there had been high-profile news stories of product tampering, such as the Tylenol incident in 1982, that may have led to a heightened concern for candy tampering as well.
In 1986, a live Dixie Land music band performed while the parade was gathering. That year it was announced that an adult prize of a dinner for two would be given out at the costume contest to make the Halloween event “more of a family affair.” Since 1971, prizes were only given to preschool through sixth graders. Junior high and high school students would not make a return to the costume contest until 1995.
Costumes would continue to evolve during the 1980s, such as Holly Hobbie, Pink Panther, and toothpaste in the early ‘80s and the Bride of Death Valley, Freddie from Nightmare on Elm Street, and the Dancing Raisins later in the decade.
Prizes continued to change as well. The bicycles were still awarded, and stereos, video games, and boom boxes were added.
In the 1990s, costumes such as Edward Scissorhands, baseball cards, Julia Child, and the Simpsons continued to reflect pop culture. The bicycle still remained one of the top prizes of the ‘90s, and other prizes included Walkmans, cassette/CD boomboxes, inline skates, and small black and white and color televisions.
In 1995, the junior high and high school students returned to the costume parade for the first time since 1970, as noted earlier. A year later, glow sticks were handed out to children before the parade began, and police officer Ken Pacheco entertained the crowd. At the same time, the judges decided on the winning costumes by doing the Macarena dance.
The start of the 2000s saw the parade canceled due to the weather, but the costume contest continued. In 2001, with the events of 9/11 still on the minds of everyone, the National Anthem was performed by Carly Suzan. In 2003, with construction going on to update Center School, the parade route was completely altered for the only time in the parade’s history.
The parade would begin at the Town Wharf and head east past the Harbormaster’s building. It would then take a right from Water Street to Barstow Street, picking up the traditional route along Church Street past the growing Center School. It would continue to Main Street and Water Street, where it would end back at the wharf. The costume contest took place at Shipyard Park that year.
The 2000s also saw the return of the drummer to the Halloween parade. Mike Bauer and his son Garrett took the parade lead in 2001 at the urging of Mike’s wife, Jodi. When Garrett left for college, Jodi took over the drumming duties. Jodi Bauer runs the same barber shop that Abraham Skidmore worked in when he started the parade, and now she leads the parade as barbers Skidmore and Morgado did in the parade’s early years. Coincidently, Jodi also lives in the same house that Skidmore lived.
In 2004, the parade route was restored back to its current form, and the costume
Renovations to Center School forced the parade route to be altered, and the costume contest moved to Shipyard Park in 2003 the contest returned to Center School. 2004 marked the 66th year of the Mattapoisett Halloween Parade.
Since the parade began in 1949, over 1,200 children and adults have won prizes in the costume contest following the parade, and thousands more have marched in the parade and participated in the costume contest.
Some of the children that won prizes over the years include one of the master of ceremonies, Captain Anthony Days of the Mattapoisett Police Department who won a prize as Grog during the 1970 costume contest. A year later, Jodi Ennis won a prize as a cup of hot chocolate. She would be pictured in the Presto Press standing next to an old radio costume that also won a prize. The child wearing the costume of the old radio was Mike Bauer. Later in life, the two would marry and, as noted earlier, lead the parade. (Below are links to historical lists of the names of the costume winners, judges, and parade leaders).
On Halloween night in 1950, just after the parade, a trophy was presented to Abraham Skidmore. In just the parade’s second year, the children wanted to show appreciation for what Abraham had done for them. The trophy was inscribed “To Skid, from all the youngsters of Mattapoisett, Halloween, 1950”. Today, the whereabouts of the trophy is not known. He had been honored for his community involvement over the years, including a medal he received from the American Legion for his civic accomplishments. He touched the lives of children during the early to mid-20th century and continues to do so in the 21st century as his spirit continues with the parade.