Saturday, October 26, 2013

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Hamilton Park

It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was being screened outdoors.

The event wasn’t publicized, it was meant to be and remained an ultra-local presentation by the Hamilton Park neighborhood association.  I was walking through the park, as I am oft to do, and there in the dark in the distance by the gazebo was the familiar Peanuts characters. Linus and Sally waiting for the great pumpkin and instantly I’m back in childhood watching this on TV with the rest of the family knowing that the next day or two I would go trick or treating. One year I was the Wolfman, a rubber mask I bought at this five and dime in Westwood and I turned my winter gloves inside out, to show the fake-fur.

There was a crowd, parents and kids, mostly young kids, under ten, but a few older ones and many more toddlers, they were silent, enthralled. Most of the parents were a couple (be kind) of years younger than me but this particular film has been part of the American Halloween experience since 1966. I wasn’t the only one wallowing in nostalgic childhood memories.

One of the organizers told me they hope to show more films here. The screen was an inflatable thing. The projection was so crisp and clear. It looked great. Historians should note this was the first film shown in Hamilton Park. (I am totally making this up but it also might be true).

Ten years ago, before the remodeling built dog runs, the local dog owners would let their canines run wild – a few still don’t use enclosed areas. The play ground area was a tiny island that had to have a wire fence erected around it to protect toddlers from the dogs of irresponsible pet owners. Local winos and homeless would hang out too, but in limited numbers. There used to be drug dealers some say, but that was in the 80s before I moved here.

Now the dogs are happy in their enclosures and new Halloween memories are being created. I have no doubt that when these kids have kids that It’s A Great Pumpkin will be part of their childhoods too, and they’ll remember watching the Peanuts Special with their mom’s and dad’s back in the park in Jersey City. No one will remember the time when unleashed dogs ruled the grounds.

Halloween proves that summer is over and initiates the holiday celebrations that welcome winter and when that hangover begins to fade way on January 1 it will be too cold to hang out in the park at night for extended periods of time and all we can do is hope for an early spring. Halloween is harvest and masquerade and a recognition of the supernatural and mystery, the core of which is death.  Halloween is about play and imagination, maybe it helps children to cope with what is new to their young minds – the burden of mortality. That, and free candy.

Sally and Linus wait in the pumpkin patch, Charlie Brown poses for a Jack o’ Lantern, Snoopy on his doghouse fling the Sopwith Camel in his World War I film within a film. I haven’t seen this in years. Peanuts has been part of Halloween for damn near half a century. It is Halloween, especially for kids – there’s still a few years of innocence before they go to the young adult Halloween bacchanals in their ironic and outlandish costumes.  Most of the kids here were more than a decade away from taking the Path to the Village Halloween parade. I wonder how many Miley Cyrus/Robin Thicke twerking costume couples will be there next week.

But here’s the real Halloween, or perhaps the one in the end we most fondly remember. Being with the parents and the siblings, enjoying autumn’s soft chill in the evening air, watching It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. We want the masquerade and the candy and we will wait all night in the Pumpkin Patch for the Great Pumpkin to appear. The nightmare before Christmas. Actually, Ghost Busters was shown next, but the temperature was dropping and the younger kids lost interest (it's a way over-rated film) and the crowd quickly shrank. When it comes to Halloween, who can compete with Charlie Brown & the gang, except for the Simpsons or South Park. But not in Hamilton Park, where Halloween innocence lasted one more night.

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