For Patchogue’s third annual Day of the Dead celebration on Oct. 27, visual artist Jessica Valentin of Bohemia is codesigning an altar that she says will reflect both her Puerto Rican roots and her digital muse.
“I wanted it to be as close to a traditional altar as I can make it,” says Valentin, 40, owner of Patchogue’s Muñeca Arthouse art gallery. Her altar collaboration with Beth Giacummo, executive director of the Patchogue Arts Council, will be decorated with marigolds, votive candles and other Day of the Dead offerings, as well as Valentin’s original digital artwork titled “The Constellation, Dos Esposos” (two husbands).
Set up inside the 20,000-square-foot Stereo Garden, where the celebration is being moved to accommodate more than 200 revelers expected this year, the altar also will be decorated, according to tradition, with photos of the dead.
Day of the Dead awareness has been increasing since last year’s hit Pixar release "Coco," which told a story set on the Mexican holiday that begins on Halloween and ends on All Souls Day, Nov. 2.
“Day of the Dead celebrations are becoming more of a global phenomenon,” says Patchogue event organizer Jacqueline Hensley, a local businesswoman who lives in Brookhaven hamlet. Hensley says the event is raising funds to restore Patchogue's Lakeview Cemetery while being “as respectful to the [Latino] culture as possible.”
Honoring her own family traditions, Valentin says she will display on the altar photos of her two late husbands, Robert Bowden of Patchogue, who died in 2003, and Darren Slomberg of Medford, who died three years ago. “There is color and celebration in honoring the dead, who have loved us and made us who we are,” Valentin says.
Other guests are invited to add photos of their own deceased friends and family members, including pets. Photos of people buried in local cemeteries also will be displayed.
Another Day of the Dead tradition — a cemetery visit — will be led by Ralph Wright of Patchogue. Wright will take revelers on a 30- to 40-minute nighttime tour of the Lakeview Cemetery, where many local dignitaries are buried. Although the tour commences at the cemetery’s entrance, Wright says it’s “not a scary Halloween experience.” Instead, he says, it’s “a look into the fascinating and rich history of one of Long Island's oldest villages.”
Stops include Revolutionary War and Civil War graves, and a monument to the Smith sisters, members of a wealthy family that lived — and died — in the area, beginning in the 1700s. The sisters donated plots for the Sailors' Memorial, where eight sailors who perished in the 1895 wreck of the schooner Louis V. Place off Fire Island are buried. Wright also will point out the graves of a slave and early suffragettes.
EAT, DRINK, PAINT
Revelers can enjoy some of the same Mexican treats associated with May’s Cinco de Mayo holiday — from a taco bar to pitchers of sangria to happy tunes played by a mariachi band.
But the Day of the Dead has its own traditions, such as the colorful, glittery costumes some guests are expected to wear.
“We encourage people to come dressed in sugar skull regalia,” Jacqueline Hensley says, such as flower headdresses. Makeup artists will be on hand to decorate faces with a sugar skull design for a $20 donation to the cemetery restoration.
Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead celebration
WHEN | WHERE 6:30-9:30 p.m. Oct. 27 at Stereo Garden, 9 Railroad Ave., Patchogue
INFO 631-207-1000, patchogue.com
ADMISSION $75 ($65 advance)