The Ragamuffin Parade is a Bay Ridge institution, an annual tradition since 1966. These days, it’s when local children wear their Halloween costumes weeks before Halloween and march down Third Avenue on the day before the Third Avenue Festival—typically, the last weekend in September or the first weekend in October. (This year, Saturday, October 3, from 76th to 92nd streets.) But the parade used to be a little different. The first one was put together by Our Lady of Angels’s Father McKenna and local resident Cliff Scanlon; they rounded up local children from different parishes, “just for fun,” according to the official website. “Back [in 1970],” said one local organizer, “no one wore costumes. Kids just wore their parents’ clothes so they looked messy, like little Ragamuffins.” Also, they marched down Fourth Avenue, “Brooklyn’s ‘church avenue,’” not to be confused with Brooklyn’s Church Avenue. (In 1980, they marched down Third Avenue the same day as the festival!)
The Bay Ridge Ragamuffin Parade wasn’t the first or only such dress parade; similar celebrations had been going on in NYC since at least 1870. The Madison Square Boys Club held an annual Thanksgiving parade from 1925 until at least the 1960s. But these died out over the years, and by 1972 the Times called the Bay Ridge version “the largest ragamuffin parade in the United States.” (That year, 35,000 people came to watch 6,000 kids.) “The [Bay Ridge] parade institutionalized the tradition of children begging door to door on Thanksgiving, dressed as ragamuffins,” according to Jeffrey A. Kroessler’s New York Year by Year. (Today, Halloween-season ragamuffin parades are also held in Hoboken, Amityville, and other cities.)
What has always stood out to me about our Bay Ridge celebration is the iconic ragamuffin boy, who has graced the procession’s ubiquitous posters since as far back as I can remember. I asked Home Reporter columnist and local civic-volunteer extraordinaire Ted General if he knew where it came from. “If memory serves me right,” he wrote, “the boy carrying the Ragamuffin sign—and its predecessor, the Ragamuffin Drummer Boy—were plucked from 19th-century, [from] old-fashioned or vintage-advertising line-art (clip art) that was in the public domain.” Which means the boy is about as old as New York Ragamuffin Parades themselves.