Garden of Earthly Delights


DESIGN, CONCEPT, and DIRECTION: Alex Kahn, Sophia Michahelles

ARTISTIC and TECHNICAL SUPPORT: Kate Whitehead, Colin Wright and the Yukon Tree Wranglers



“The garden suggests there might be a place where we can meet nature halfway.”   Michael Pollan

Although one often associates Halloween with things Infernal, this year’s Halloween Parade headed to Paradise, or more specifically the Garden of Earthly Delights. As we unearthed the layers of Heironymous Bosch’s timeless altarpiece, we explored the role of Garden as precarious borderland between the primeval terrors of wilderness and the modern confines of civility.

Humankind’s neolithic transition to agriculture spurred a mythological obsession with the Garden, as the dangerous uncertainty of our hunter-gatherer past gave way to ordered paths, sheltering walls, and sustaining bounties. The Tree of Life and the fruits of immortality are never found in the forest, jungle, or savannah, but rather in a cultivated Garden - whether Golden Apples tended by the Hesperides of the Greeks, or the Jade Emperor’s Peaches of Immortality pilfered by Monkey King of Chinese myth, or the Biblical Garden of Eden whose fruits bring knowledge even as they harken the end of innocence. Like Borges’ Garden of the Forking Paths, it is a place of infinite possibilities and permutations contained within a finite and intimate space. Gardens are also places of forbidden delights and forgotten joys hidden away behind ivied walls and locked gates. The secret gardens of Hans Christian Andersen and Frances Hodgson Burnett remind us that the Garden evokes a return to childhood’s fearless and ephemeral embrace of the world.

The New York Village Halloween Parade has always been a secret garden of sorts, a place where, for 40 years, wildness of every rare variety has flourished within the high walls of New York’s streets. Just as Frederick Law Olmsted’s ramble in Central Park cultivates the liberating thrill of bewilderment amidst its twisting paths, we know we can always return safely home in the end. This year in our guise as Official Parade Puppeteers Superior Concept Monsters, we sowed the seeds of a verdant Garden of Earthly Delights, turning Sixth Avenue into a greenway of surging shoots, unfurling blossoms, and tempting fruits dangling low from the animated boughs of a giant Tree of Life.

As the Garden pulsed forward to the drums of Batala, a formidable all-women’s Samba bateria, serpents descended out of nowhere, dangling exquisite Hudson Valley apples (courtesy Montgomery Place Orchards!) over the barricades for a select few. With more recent urban myths warning children of razor blades in Halloween apples, onlookers drawn into the Serpent’s spotlight found themselves part of the performance, making a mythic and suddenly public choice between knowledge and innocence with one simple bite.