What do you get when you cross a puppet-maker with a Day of the Dead-loving circus man named Juan Basura and a parade occupied by a couple of hundred larger-than-life puppets?? The Ft. Lauderdale Day of The Dead Procession. They call it a "procession" because they can't really call it a "parade". And they march the sidewalks because they can't really march the streets. But besides the fine print, it's a parade honoring the Day of the Dead, filled with giant puppets from your worst nightmares and classic Mexican Catrina masks. The three-year old event almost doubles its turnout every year. This year, on Friday November 2, they're expecting more than 3,500 attendees, 600 of which are participating in the procession.
Long-time puppeteer Jim Hammond is the man behind the event. He organized weekend workshops leading up to the event where the South Florida community could come together and build the giant puppets together. "There is no individual artist," Hammond said. Beside the communal puppets, people could come paint Catrina masks or papier-mache miniature floats for the parade.
Then there's Juan Basura. "I'm an Irish Catholic from Chicago, but if you open me up I'm Mexican," said the Day of the Dead fanatic, Basura (AKA Jack Garbage). Basura says growing up in the south side of Chicago had a strong Mexican influence on him. Basura and his wife, "Miscellaneous Basura", travel around with their interactive Basura Circus, which is of course Day of the Dead themed. He's the owner of one of the two "muerto-mobiles" that ride in the procession... the other car is a hearse. Basura's car is completely covered in paint, beads, skeletons, and paper shapes. He says they let kids draw on the car at every event they do, adding to the interactive element.
Beside the puppets and the cars, there's the ofrendas (offerings). During the Day of the Dead celebrations, families will visit the cemetaries where their loved ones are buried and decorate the graves with marigold flowers and specific things that the person loved when they were living. This is supposed to entice the souls of the dead back to earth for the day. The Ft. Lauderdale event has an entire area dedicated to ofrendas people brought in. One person made an ofrenda for his father who was a Hemingway fan and looked like the famous writer. The father even won a Hemingway look-alike contest. His son included Hemingway novels and photos on his ofrenda. Another ofrenda was covered in different rum bottles... can you guess what that person loved in his life?
So between the "procession" (parade), muerto-mobiles, masks, puppets, interactive circus, bicycle merry-go-round, live music, and ofendras, South Florida is coming up close as best Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead celebration on this side of the border.