The grim reaper strode down North Fourth Avenue Sunday night, but no one cringed in fear.
He was one of thousands of costumed people on the avenue for the 19th annual All Souls Procession.
An estimated 30,000 people, marchers and spectators packed North Fourth Avenue from East University Boulevard to somewhere south of East Fifth Street for the procession, which is timed to coincide with the Day of the Dead celebrations.
People jumped in and out of the street, laughed, talked and waited to get into the procession as it wound its way through downtown.
As the procession got under way about 6 p.m., bands already were playing and numerous street drummers pounded out a beat.
While the event seemed to have a party atmosphere, similar to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, Emily Edgar, a 27-year-old former nursing student, said it was not a party event.
“It’s festive, because we’re celebrating all those who came before us. It’s a celebration of life,” Edgar said.
The event is a time for people to honor the dead.
“So far it seems to have the right spirit. I’m glad to see so much of the community out,” said Edgar, who wore a black dress sporting white butterfly wings.
The costume, she said, was to symbolize the metamorphosis a caterpillar goes through to become a butterfly – much like a person’s life.
Edgar said she was honoring a friend who died seven years ago.
Robert “Bear” Fullerton, a 33-year-old blacksmith, also was going through a metamorphosis – but one of a different kind.
He and his 27-year-old fiancée, Danielle McFarland, got married at the start of the procession on the corner of North Fourth and East Fifth Street.
Fullerton, wearing a kilt and dark coat, said he and McFarland met at last year’s gathering.
Fullerton said, “I’m honoring all our ancestors from Scotland. Dani’s ancestors are from Scotland too.”
McFarland, wearing a white gown and black veil, said of the somber face covering, “After I get married, I’m going to take it off to symbolize a new beginning.”
The procession, McFarland said, “means an awful lot to me. It’s very important to honor your ancestors.”
Fullerton said, “This is to honor the dead, but also to start our lives anew. “Danielle’s father, he died last year of cancer.”
“I love it. It’s a wonderful Tucson tradition,” said John Sartin, a 56-year-old commercial photographer, as people jostled each other on the avenue.
Sartin, wearing a devilish black and red costume, said, “This is that Southwestern tradition of honor your ancestors.”
Sartin said he was honoring a friend who died late last year and his own in-laws. His father-in-law died last year and his mother-in-law died in 2006.
“It’s a joyous occasion to honor dead ancestors and feel the joy they brought into my life when they were living,” Sartin said.
Thomas C. Beall, a 58-year-old yoga teacher dressed as the grim reaper, said, “I’m here for the ceremony, the celebration; I haven’t lost anyone this year.”
Shifting the scythe in his grasp, Beall said, “It’s fun, it’s my favorite time of the year.”