Letter, Opinion

Tom Fagan, Rutland’s Halloween Parade and me

Dear Editor, 

I knew Tom Fagan really well. But I never met him in person!

Despite that fact, he is the reason I was in Rutland’s Annual Halloween Parade this year (2023)!

Let me explain: I grew up in a little seashore resort town called Wildwood Crest, New Jersey, located near the southern tip of the state, in the 1960s. And from a very early age I was a great fan of Batman comics. The very first time I ever heard of Tom Fagan was from the letters page in issue No. 148 of the Batman comic, in June of 1962 (I was 9 years old at the time). Tom was a big Batman fan too, and in his letter he described this wonderful Halloween Parade that had been going on in Rutland since 1959, and how he had ended up getting involved with it beginning in 1960 dressed in a homemade Batman costume. He described how he had created a small float for the parade complete with a huge painted backdrop of Batman (that he did himself)—and his five-year-old daughter Deana (named after James Dean) stood on the float dressed in a “Bat-Mite” outfit (another character from the comics).

The next time I encountered Tom was in the May, 1964 issue of Detective Comics (No. 327), where Tom once again expounded on the Rutland Parade.

Then, in the January, 1965 issue of a fan-produced zine called Batmania (by Biljo White of Columbus, Missouri), there was an extensive article called “The Big Parade” written by Tom (who later became the Associate Editor of Batmania up until it ended its run with issue #17 in 1968). This article really gave a great history of the parade up to that point, and how popular it had gotten.

As the 1960s progressed, the parade became one of the biggest Halloween parades in the country, and Tom was able to cajole a number of writers, artists and editors who worked for DC Comics in New York City (who published Batman comics) to come up to Rutland and participate in the parade, dressed as their favorite superheroes. This led to some pretty amazing floats in the coming years, featuring various superhero characters of all sizes, shapes, and costumes. (One year, a guy showed up painted completely green—with green body paint—as The Incredible Hulk, wearing nothing but a torn pair of purple pants in 30-degree weather!) At the time, besides working as a reporter for the Rutland Herald, Tom was living in and taking care of a historic old mansion in Rutland known as the Clement House (once owned by a former governor of Rutland, and later by the family that owned the Herald newspaper), as a favor to the owner. One year Tom decided to invite all of the costume-clad superheroes in the parade back to the mansion for a comic-book-themed Halloween party that ended up lasting until the next morning! After that those Halloween parties became quite infamous (ending up becoming a yearly tradition that continued well into the 1970s, getting bigger every year). Tom often was the Grand Marshal of the Halloween Parade during those years too, always dressed in his homemade Batman costume. He was often sidelined as a parade judge as well, helping to choose who had the best costume, the best float, etc. In 1992 PEGTV, the local Rutland TV station, started broadcasting the parade live every year—even offering DVD copies of it for sale afterward.

The Rutland parade became so famous that it was even featured in a number of DC and Marvel comic books in the early 1970s, including issue No. 237 of Batman comics (December 1971), where Tom Fagan and Batman actually met each other after the Halloween Parade that year at Tom’s Halloween Party at the Clement Mansion!

Unfortunately, in the early 2000s, Tom’s health began to fail. He finally passed away at age 77 on October 21, 2008—sadly, right before that year’s Halloween Parade. (The following year, 2009, marked the 50th anniversary of the parade.) He now rests peacefully in a shaded plot in Evergreen Cemetery, just outside of town.

In 2017 the city of Rutland decided to sponsor a Halloween Parade Museum in the old Courcelle Building located at 16 North Street Extension. The museum featured many of the large painted plywood comic book art panels that had been used on various parade floats throughout the years, as well as copies of the various comic books that had featured the parade in the 1970s. Unfortunately, it had to be dismantled by the Rutland Recreation Dept. moved to its new headquarters to 134 Community Drive. The painted comic book panels are now back in storage; whether the city will ever be able to find a new space to reassemble the museum again is, at this point, an open question.

In July of 2018 I decided to personally revive the Batmania fanzine. I produced nine issues in all, up until April of 2022—including a Special Rutland Halloween Parade Issue in October of 2018 (No. 25). Later that same year I decided that I wanted to produce a special full-color booklet documenting the complete history of the Rutland Parade, from its humble beginnings in 1959 up to the present. Even though there had been a number of articles about the parade over the years in the Rutland Herald (as well as various other newspapers and magazines across the country), I felt it was important that someone put the complete history of the parade together in one source, and distribute copies of it around to various Rutland organizations so that the beginnings and history of the parade (and the part Tom played in shaping it) would not be forgotten by future generations. I ended up producing a 128-page book using much of the material that I had collected over the years relating to the parade—and I distributed self-printed copies of it to seven different organizations around Rutland: the Antique Mansion Bed and Breakfast (the old Clement House), the Rutland Herald, the Rutland Historical Society, the main branch of the Rutland Library, the Rutland Chamber of Commerce, PEGTV, and April Cioffi (of the Rutland Recreation & Parks Department, the organizer of the parade for many years).

For a long time I harbored two personal dreams: one, to personally visit Rutland at Halloween and see the Halloween Parade in person. That finally happened in 2018. I even got to stay two nights at the Clement House during my visit (which is now a Bed and Breakfast)! Unfortunately, personal circumstances prevented me and my wife from going back to see the parade again in 2019, and in 2020 it was canceled because of Covid-19. We got back to Rutland in 2021, but the parade was canceled again that year because of bad weather, and didn’t come off. In 2022 circumstances once again prevented my wife and I from getting up to Rutland.

But in October of 2023 we were both able to go back to Rutland again—and while there I finally fulfilled my second longtime dream: to be IN the Rutland Halloween Parade, dressed as a 1960s superhero (The Green Hornet, from the 1966 ABC-TV series starring Van Williams)!

A statue of Tom in his makeshift Batman costume shaking hands with the real thing (made out of genuine Vermont marble, and based on a comic book panel by artist Neal Adams from Batman No. 237 back in 1971) was unveiled on West Avenue in Rutland in October of 2023 along the parade route—just a few days before the parade. I was able to salute Tom when I passed by his statue.

I think he would be proud.

Kirk Hastings,

Somers Point,New Jersey

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