Martin Burke and Autumn Ward stood on Sunday in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan and struck poses for the dozens of spectators taking photographs of them. Mr. Burke wore a dapper suit and Ms. Ward a bright floral dress. The cameras, however, were pointed at the couple’s headwear: papier-mâché versions of the stone moai heads of Easter Island.
“We thought it was the Easter Island parade,” quipped Ms. Ward, 46, a belly dancing instructor.
New York’s humor and imagination were on full display at the Easter Parade and Easter Bonnet Festival on Fifth Avenue. The tradition of making hats to wear on Easter Sunday started as an after-church fashion procession in the 1870s. But it has slowly evolved into a costume extravaganza, where those with the most whimsical hats briefly become celebrities and curious onlookers the paparazzi.
Taking a break from the attention, Ms. Ward explained how she crafted the moai heads out of paper, bedsheets, electrical tape and an acrylic glue. The gray figurines had burgundy hats of their own.
“I am merely a palate for her genius,” said Mr. Burke, a history professor at the City University of New York.
Mr. Burke proudly said he was once photographed by Bill Cunningham, The New York Time’s longtime fashion photographer. Mr. Cunningham photographed the parade in the 1950s and continued until his death in 2016. He once called it a “carnival celebration of spring.”
Many revelers were dressed to the nines and the parade overflowed with traditional Easter egg baskets, flowers and ribbons. But the spotlight was seemingly on the outlandish parade regulars wearing extravagant headpieces that shouted: only in New York.
Sue Doster, 53, struggled to hold up her top hat, a foam sailboat being sunk by the red tentacles of a kraken sea monster. For the past 10 years, Ms. Doster and her friends have chosen a theme. This year, they decided on mythological creatures, featuring the kraken, a phoenix, a jackalope, a mermaid and the Loch Ness monster.
“From the minute we stepped off the subway, people stopped us with their cameras,” said Ms. Doster, the chief technology officer at the Foundation for AIDS Research. “We barely made it.”
Ms. Doster was spotted by The Times two years ago wearing a stovepipe-style hat modeled on the American Museum of Natural History.
Close by, Ada Nieves showed off Tabasco Chili Pepper, an 11-year-old Chihuahua sporting red sunglasses and a ladybug raincoat. Ms. Nieves, 54, runs Chihuahua Nation, a meet-up group for dog owners.
“You’ll see about 30 Chihuahuas all dressed up and enjoying Easter,” she said.
Bill Hirt, 56, tried not to poke anyone’s eye out with his elaborate headwear: a pink spider web made of wires and yarn. Black foam spiders with tiny flower bonnets dangled in front of him.
“Every year we try to do something that is not hat-like,” said Mr. Hirt, a high school guidance counselor from the Upper West Side. Seven years ago, Mr. Hirt and his friend, Patrick Loy, crafted a 30-pound hat they called the “Happy Nor’easter.” It left their necks aching and they quickly learned to build lighter headgear.
“Everyone is in a good mood here,” Mr. Hirt, 56, said. “It’s people from all over the world mingling.”
Near the bronze Atlas statue in front of Rockefeller Center, tourists were more interested in posing with two police officers than the Art Deco sculpture. The officers were in uniform, wearing their standard-issue caps.
The police officers happily obliged, seeming to enjoy their brush with fame.
A woman speaking on the phone made her way through the route and came to an abrupt stop. She stared at a man on a Segway adorned with orange orchids. His suit matched the flowers and his black top hat was fixed with black bunny ears. By his feet, a pet poodle he had spray-painted orange stared at spectators.
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