RAHWAY, N.J. — Parade floats with pirate ships, skulls and skeletons lurked outside. The Joker and another frightening-looking clown walked about inside.
The annual Halloween Spooktacular at Rahway’s Recreation Center on Oct. 31 was where Rahway residents of all ages came out in their costumed — from the silly to macabre — best.
Red-striped tents filled the center’s gym, where children and adults lined up for games at the Monster Mash Carnival, including the strongman contest and a costume contest. The carnival-style tents are usually set up at at Train Station Plaza for the event, but the city decided only 24 hours beforehand to move it into the rec center due to the weather.
The Department of Recreation and Senior Services organizes the parade each year, and it usually starts at the Union County Performing Arts Center’s Hamilton Stage and winds down Irving Street to the Rahway Train Station. Although the rainy weather truncated the parade, that didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm of Spooktacular attendees.
Each year, the parade floats are decorated by the police and fire departments, EMS, public works, Boy Scouts and Villani Bus.
“We typically get about 15 to 20 floats that are decorated by various departments, companies, and nonprofit organizations,” Anthony Deige Jr., director of the Department of Recreation and Senior Services, said.
Even the shortened indoor version of the Halloween event seemed to brighten spirits.
“This year, I’m happy with the turnout,” said Matt Kowal, a Rahway resident who was helping out at the Monster Mash Carnival. “With the weather, we had to go inside. I hope it keeps growing the way it’s growing. It’s on a great trajectory.”
Squealing children and parents trying to keep track of them set the mood in the rec center.
“I know the weather’s not that great, but I want people to have fun and come back next year,” Rahway Recreation Department employee Kelsie Kozick said.
The event has changed in the past years, particularly the activities involved.
“Last year was our first year doing the carnival, and it was very well received,” City Spokesman Joe Brown said. “The biggest change is going from the Trunk or Treat to the carnival. All these games add a fun element for the kids.”
The elimination of the Trunk or Treat did not mean the elimination of candy, though. All attendees received “goody bags” with 25 pieces of candy inside them.
Spooktacular takes an entire year to organize, officials said. Planning for next year’s began Nov. 1, the day after the Spooktacular, to discuss what worked and what needs to be improved or changed. The city will then secure vendors and sponsors, and begin to gather its marketing materials and work through event logistics.
“Mayor Raymond Giacobbe has assembled a very enthusiastic team,” Deige said. “The Police and fire departments are instrumental in ensuring the safety of participants as well as organizing all the floats in the parade. The Department of Public Works tackles the footprint of the event, as well as the creation of the goody bags. The Rahway Arts and Business District engages the local businesses.”
This year’s event included several key changes, including making the event free for all residents. And a coordinated dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” in which more than 20 children participated, encouraged by eager parents, was a highlight of the Spooktacular.
Abdul “Akathemjstar” Chambliss, a competitive dancer who led the “Thriller” demonstration, said rehearsals had been held for an hour every week for about a month leading up to the event.
“Around the third week of rehearsals,” he confided, “the instructor said, ‘I didn’t want to tell the kids, but you’re going to be Michael. I can clearly see you know the moves.’”