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The Secrets Behind How Toms River Pulls off One of the World’s Largest Halloween Parades

The Toms River Halloween Parade (Credit: Townsquare Media/105.7 The Hawk)

The Toms River Halloween Parade (Credit: Townsquare Media/105.7 The Hawk)

Billing itself as one of the largest family-friendly Halloween parades in the country – it was once even ranked the second-largest in the world – the Toms River Halloween Parade has lots going on behind the scenes to ready for the big event October 31 down Main and Washington streets.

And it’s not just day-of stuff, where dozens of volunteers help line up costumed walkers into age (or pet) groups, or getting everyone registered. And it’s also not a matter of getting dozens of police barricades set up to block off the roads that intersect with the parade route, or making sure the town has fire coverage — since Toms River Fire Co. No. 1 is hosting the parade.

And it’s more than getting sponsors for the annual program and form booklet, and distributing them all over town in the weeks leading up to the parade.

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Carl Weingroff, longtime parade volunteer who has also served as the parade chairman for the fire company, said, pretty much, the parade tasks come year round for the organizing committee. This year he is an advisor to the parade committee, and Matt Duell is this year’s parade chairman — both are volunteer firefighters in the township, and have those duties as well as all the parade details.

But leading up to Halloween, the questions from the public pick up. It seems every year, folks in Toms River and neighboring towns need a reminder of when the parade is and when trick or treating is.

“We’re not in charge of when trick or treating is,” said Weingroff, as that’s a decision left to the town, who names the day before as official trick-or-treat day, October 30.

All but several years of the parade’s existence, the parade has happened on Halloween, October 31. This year is no different.

One of the notable years was 2012, when days before Halloween, Superstorm Sandy hit. Much of the town would still be without power come parade day, and the parade was canceled.

There was another stretch in the early existence of the parade where it didn’t take place in consecutive years, but 2017 marks the 79th Halloween Parade, and Weingroff said it continues to attract tens of thousands of participants and onlookers. The parade at its longest has stretched past three hours, he said.

Among the dozens of trophies handed out by judges for costumes and floats, and there’s even a category for the participant who has traveled the farthest to be there.

Another set of popular questions about the parade is whether it is okay to place chairs along the curb of the parade route to “reserve your spot.” Many folks chain chairs together and then lock it to a nearby tree, for example. Mostly, monitoring whether it becomes out of hand is a matter that falls to the police department. This year the chairs were spotted as early as 11 a.m. October 30.

Weingroff said the organizers’ role is often to make sure everything goes smoothly and stays family-friendly.

He told Toms River Shorebeat he remembers having to make specific warnings to political campaigns to avoid taking a heavy hand distributing disparaging messages along the parade route, after Christine Todd Whitman showed up at the parade to campaign for governor.

Another consideration is the funeral homes that operate downtown. Weingroff said he’s had to make sure that those businesses remember the road closures while completing their schedule, lest the bereaved show up to a funeral home in the middle of a parade.

Mostly though, lining up the logistics may be a lot of work and a lot of fun, but much of the parade details stay the same: register at the fire house at 26 Robbins Street; line up at the Toms River Shopping Centre/Kohl’s plaza, parade route goes from there on Main Street, turns onto Washington Street; judging takes place as the parade passes outside the library; and the parade ends before the intersection with Hooper Avenue.

But, Weingroff said the traffic construction going on along Route 166/Main Street near the intersection with Route 37 could have made this year tricky for the parade. However, there’ll be no construction going on during parade night, he said.

Next year though, the new traffic pattern is likely operational on that stretch, which puts a new traffic light at Main and Highland Parkway, and a median/barrier leading up to Route 37. That could mean next year, everyone will have to head onto Highland Parkway from the parking lot then turn onto Main Street, instead of taking the side road that is part of The Office’s parking lot as the parade goes in front of the building currently.

It may be the only way to logistically change things in the future, since otherwise marching bands would have to reconfigure their setup and some floats would have to squeeze by the median, Weingroff said, already envisioning how to make it all work for 2018.

The 79th Toms River Fire Co. No. 1 Halloween Parade will step off Tuesday, October 31 at 7 p.m. To register as a parade entrant, stop by the fire house, 26 Robbins Street, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. that day.

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