Autumn in Baltimore means a lot of things: the return of football, a shift in the weather, and, for people in Southeast Baltimore, the Great Lantern Parade in Patterson Park. The parade, held the weekend before Halloween, is always in the evening. It creates a light show of artwork as it winds its way through the park, with glowing lanterns and floats. There are often also musicians, marching bands, and children in their Halloween costumes. 

The parade has been a fall ritual for 23 years, and this October marks its return as an in-person celebration. In 2021, it was modified for COVID-19 by allowing participants to make floats that they could carry in their cars. Each year the parade has a theme, and 2022’s is Myths, Legends, and Spirits. 

A fully constructed half-moon lantern. Credit: Cameron Snell

The Great Halloween Lantern Parade is about community and creativity. Annually, the Highlandtown-based community arts organization Creative Alliance puts out an open call to artists and community groups to create the glowing floats and mobile objects that will be carried in the parade. 

At Creative Alliance, artist, educator, and cultural organizer Valeska Populoh led a series of workshops for more advanced and adventurous lantern makers. I visited on Saturday and witnessed hands threading reeds and strips of paper into what would inevitably emerge as sculptural forms. Half-constructed skeletons and frameworks waited for their subsequent paint and embellishment, so they could be paraded through a festive Baltimore evening. Artists in Pupuloh’s workshop used materials like medical-grade paper, creative grip ties, tape, and reeds from the rattan plant. Pupoloh told me that although the lanterns used to be lit by candlelight, they are powered by battery-operated LED lights these days. 

Artist and educator Mama Sallah weaves reeds with assistance from instructor Valeska Populoh in the advanced lantern-making workshop. Credit: Cameron Snell

In the days leading up to the October 22 event, Creative Alliance is offering a calendar of lantern- and float-making workshops for both artists and novices. On the event day, there is an open-air workshop where folks can come and create a lantern they can carry with them. Organizers say more than 1,000 lanterns are created on the day of the parade. 

This photo essay by Cameron Snell captures the preparations made for the parade. At Baltimore Beat, we were curious about what went on behind the scenes and what it takes to make the magic that we witness each year. We visited two workshops, one led by Populoh that was more advanced lantern making; that workshop included MICA faculty and artists. We also attended a drop-in workshop full of conversation, drinks, and laughter in anticipation of carrying on the tradition and legacy of the Great Lantern Parade. 

Creative Alliance Members at the Members only lantern-making workshop. Credit: Cameron Snell

The Great Halloween Lantern Parade & Festival takes place at the Pulaski monument, and its route will travel through Patterson Park. Join in on the fun on Saturday, October 22, at 4 p.m. lLine-up begins at 6:30 p.m., and the parade will start at 7 p.m.. There is a rain date of October 23.

Teri Henderson

Teri Henderson is the Arts and Culture Editor of Baltimore Beat. She is the author of the 2021 book Black Collagists. Previously, she was a staff writer for BmoreArt,...