By Lisa Byers
Change seemed to be an underlying theme of the 47th annual Meadville Halloween Parade on Saturday night.
The obvious change, of course, was the route, which began on South Main Street, wrapped around Diamond Park and ended on Terrace Street.
Then there was Armstrong.
Armstrong has participated in the parade — dubbed the largest nighttime Halloween parade in the state — in years past.
Yet, this year the local cable, internet and telephone provider took on the daunting task of trying to unseat frequent favorite Wesbury United Methodist Retirement Community for the title of grand champion float winner.
So, this year’s Halloween Parade featured a little friendly competition.
“We’re going after Wesbury,” Armstrong installer Gerald Hutchinson yelled from underneath his Incredible Hulk costume. Hutchinson, or rather Hulk, had the task of pulling the semi-truck and its attached 68-foot flatbed trailer via a set of chains attached to the cab’s front bumper.
OK, he didn’t really do the pulling. It was part of the act.
The official theme for this year’s parade, put on by the Crawford Area Young Chamber of Commerce, was Superheroes. And in that spirit, Armstrong’s float included skyscrapers, colored fog and a variety of different superheroes. The whole ensemble was highlighted by a jumbo projection screen that showed live footage of the parade. That footage was filmed by an Armstrong cameraman who was perched in the elevated seat of a bucket truck that followed the main float. And the bucket had been cleverly refashioned to resemble a news helicopter.
“We figured if we were going to do it, we were going to go big or go home,” Armstrong installer Charlie O’Brien said.
That meant employees and their families had to spend countless hours trying to put together something that would not only wow the judges, but parade-goers too.
“We have guys who have a lot of driving time,” O’Brien said. “They have a lot of time to think.”
Once it was decided how Armstrong would go about building the float, it was necessary to figure out how they would get the float around the new parade route. Armstrong hadn’t participated in the parade in four years and the last time it did, it was on a much smaller scale.
“We drove it four or five times,” O’Brien said. “We had to make sure the side boards and everything measured up and that it was safe.”
Ed Baker, the driver of the truck, donated by Pa PRIDE LLC out of Sandy Lake, admitted before the parade that despite all the precautions, he was a bit uneasy about maneuvering the new route.
“Yes I am,” he said. “I’m most worried about Chestnut Street to Market Street.”
Parade chair Erin Struchen said the trucks did have issues making the turn from Chestnut onto Market, as Baker worried. But Struchen said with some extra time all of the drivers were able to make the turn without incident.
Baker got the float to the parking lot at Penn Plaza safe and sound. But there was a problem. The float arrived without the grand champion trophy aboard.
Some things just don’t change.
For the fourth straight year and sixth time in eight years, Wesbury United Methodist Retirement Community was the best of the best.
Wesbury put together an impressive display. The Batman-themed float was gigantic and complete with several movable objects, music and a disco lights not to mention more than a dozen individuals dressed up as various Batman characters.
And as in year’s past, the masterpiece was preceded by a utility vehicle pulling a train filled with youngsters dressed in their favorite costumes and escorted by the Gotham City Police Department.
Even so, after four years of not even being involved in the parade, Armstrong was pleased to come in and give Wesbury a battle. One of the company’s employees even helped out with Wesbury’s production.
“We hadn’t done anything like this,” O’Brien said. “We thought it was time to give something back to the community. So we put our heads together and dove into it.
“And if you look, our supervisor is over there pulling cars for Wesbury,” he added, pointing just up the street where the Wesbury float was staged. “His wife works for them.
“There’s a little friendly rivalry there.”
Struchen said space along South Main Street where parade participants lined up was limited and caused some minor problems. But she said it all worked out in the end.
“People were willing to move and shuffle,” she said. “All in all, it went well. Diamond Park moved around smoothly. The view coming out of Diamond Park was great.”
Armstrong did take place right behind grand champion Wesbury in the float competition. Foulk’s Flooring America came in second. The best youth float went to the Girl Scout Troop 30735. The top marching band was Jamestown High School followed by Conneaut Area Senior High School and Meadville Area Senior High School.
In the Dance and Movement category, Captivators Baton Corp. was first, Allegheny College Cheerleading was second and Movement Unlimited placed third.