GREENWICH VILLAGE — A 30-pound, 14-foot-wide spider will descend from the Jefferson Market Library tower during the Village Halloween Parade Monday night, as it has for more than two decades — all thanks to a man named Basil Twist.
Twist, 47, is a professional puppeteer with a studio on Leroy Street, and first made and operated the spider from the library tower in 1995. He continues to do it today "as an homage to the origins of the parade," which was founded by Roger Lee in the 1970s.
Lee had managed to put a spider made from two peach baskets on the clock tower when the parade used to run from the Westbeth artist housing on Bethune Street near the Hudson River, Twist said, and snake through the little side streets of the Village, eventually ending in Washington Square Park.
In those days, the parade was smaller, and the streets of the Village would transform into a small city-sized haunted house.
"It was about being in the parade," Twist said. "You would never just stand on the side. It was about going through a haunted house."
When the parade got popular, the city moved it to Sixth Avenue to accommodate all the people who wanted to watch. The parade itself is still for participants — only those in costume can join in.
"The spider is really for the people in the parade — the actual participants," Twist said.
He waits every year for the parade marchers to hit 8th Street before he drops the spider off the edge of the clock tower, and then keeps it dangling and moving around until the tail of the parade passes.
The parade snakes up Sixth Avenue from Spring Street, and when it hits 8th Street, Twist drops the spider. (DNAinfo/Danielle Tcholakian)
Twist first created a spider in 1994, manning it on the corner of Bleecker Street and Sixth Avenue, but even then he knew he eventually wanted to have it on the clock tower as Lee had.
For the first few years, he would carry the massive puppet up and down the winding stairs of the library tower every year, until Frank Collerius took over as the library branch manager in 2000, and let Twist leave the spider there year-round.
Collerius and Twist lead the way up the clock tower's winding stairs. (DNAinfo/Danielle Tcholakian)
It's a beloved sight for locals who come to annual Open House New York tours, Collerius said.
"Everyone who lives in the Village comes up and knows the spider, and they find it such a thrill to see it," Collerius said. "They don't know it's here, and go, 'Yup, it lives here.'"
The spider rests amid a sea of purple and pink tentacles that came from an Addams Family production on Broadway, though Twist was still debating a few days before Halloween if he would attempt to include the tentacles this year.
The spider stays in the clock tower year-round. (DNAinfo/Danielle Tcholakian)
"The tentacles were too much, I need to think about that," he said. "The trick is there's a bunch of them, they take all these ropes and stuff."
Twist has manned the spider solo some years, tying it to himself with a rope and snaking the rope through the railing of the tower's narrow balcony.
Twist shows how he maneuvers around the clock tower balcony. (DNAinfo/Danielle Tcholakian)
But often he enlists volunteers, and Collerius recalled some years watching a group of volunteers holding onto Twist as he leaned precariously over the railing or moveed along it "like cross-country skiing," Twist said.
Twist shows where he drops the spider off the balcony's railing. (DNAinfo/Danielle Tcholakian)
The spider is such a "mega-institution," Twist said, that he even figured out ways to keep it part of the parade while the clock tower was under construction.
"We did a projection," he said. "So there's always been a spider here."