It’s a rich irony that Nevada’s official birthday coincides with Halloween. With its outrageous characters, outlandish costuming and joyous embrace of the grotesque, Nevada history has so very much in common with All Hallows Eve. And this year’s is no ordinary milestone — Oct. 31 marks Nevada’s 150th year of statehood, which means one very important thing to its residents: As of Nov. 1, we can finally, gladly retire the word sesquicentennial.
As it happens, both occasions will be celebrated by shuffling masses in downtown Las Vegas come the end of the month — that is, lavish parades. And because Halloween/Nevada Day falls on a Friday this year, the visitor taking a three-day weekend in Vegas can get in on the fun.
The Las Vegas Halloween Parade, beginning at 7 p.m. that night, has become one of the signature events of downtown culture in the last few years. All the hepcats, fun hogs, arty tastemakers and assorted groovy weirdos come out for it. As you might surmise from (a) the mission statement on its website (“an all-ages celebration committed to the cultural and imaginative life of Las Vegas and the advancement of large-scale participatory events”) and (b) the categories of its costume contest (group costume, illuminated costume, baby costume, most outrageous, most creative), there’s a definite Burning Man influence to the event. Founders Cory Mervis and Leslie Bocksor have strong ties to that counterculture-ish event, and it shows: Look for art cars, weird floats, over-the-top costumes (which have to be “60 percent handmade” in order to qualify for the contest), a spirit of community-building and so forth.
The parade route itself, on the redeveloping Fremont Street, will be relatively short, as parades go — just six urban blocks, marching past the Container Park and its fire-breathing mantis sculpture, culminating in a free street party featuring dancing, music and costumed mayhem. If nothing else, it’ll be a suitably spirited ramp-up to whatever midnight madness you might have planned on the Strip.
(As an alternative, if you prefer to get your Halloween on in a graveyard of classic neon signs, the Neon Museum, also downtown, will host a shindig at its Neon Boneyard, with food trucks, music and more.)
Possibly more tasteful, that morning’s Nevada Day Parade — remarkably, the first one to be held in Las Vegas — will feature the usual elements of a government-approved civic-pride event: horses, floats, marching bands, maybe even old guys zooming around downtown’s Fourth Street in undersized cars and fez hats. It concludes a year of sesquicentennial (that word again!) events, publications, museum programs and historical myth-busting (turns out Nevada wasn’t added to the Union because Lincoln wanted its mining wealth; he wanted its votes for the 13th Amendment).
There will be similar events all over Nevada — envy the cultural tourist in Carson City who can not only attend the official Steampunk Ball, but who can also watch a reenactment of the sending of Nevada’s Constitution to Washington, by Morse code, over a telegraph, an event that promises to redefine fun. But only in Vegas you can experience the heady, glammy mashup of history and gaudy Halloweenishness that might offer the best and most accurate perspective on this crazy place.