For long stretches of the last year and a half, scenes of New York City’s subway system — a once-bustling underground thoroughfare suddenly plunged into eerie emptiness by the spread of the coronavirus — felt haunting.
But after a year in which terror skulked in the shadows of ordinary life, Halloween returned to New York City this year with a vengeance. Over the weekend, costumed riders filled subway cars, and the specter of the pandemic was supplanted by fears more theatrical and absurd.
Trick-or-treating and house parties were back on, and the city’s bars and nightclubs threw open their doors to vaccinated revelers, hoping the shots would vanquish the threat of the pandemic like the final girl in a horror flick. (As with the villains in those movies, the virus has proved disappointingly resilient.)
All those plans necessitate travel. For most, the subway is the obvious solution, especially when elaborate costumes cannot be easily squashed into cabs, and Ubers and Lyfts can get pricey after dark.
Bloody vampires and ghoulish zombies of all ages shared benches with garish cartoon characters, all of them subject to the stares of residents without costumes going about their evening routines.
“Everyone thought I was a crazy lady,” said Logan Youngberg, 15. She stood on the platform at the West 4th Street station in Manhattan dressed as Britney Spears, specifically from her 2001 MTV Music Video awards performance in which she danced with a snake around her neck. (Ms. Youngberg, born after that performance, loves 2000s-era fashion; she saw the iconic look on YouTube.)
For Sam Wilkes, riding the E train offered a test of whether her glittery crimson jumpsuit and bedazzled devil horns would attract the right level of attention at the drag-queen Halloween event she was attending in Manhattan.
Her costumed return to the subway was, she said, a jubilant moment. The Village Halloween Parade was one of the first things that Ms. Wilkes did after moving to New York City, and she has celebrated every year since.
After sitting out last year, she had four looks planned for the weekend. “I missed it,” Ms. Wilkes, 40, said from behind a red mask.
Face coverings, some seamlessly integrated into costumes and others layered atop them, were one of the most visible reminders that the pandemic has not yet departed. So were virus-themed costumes, which included oversize vaccination cards, vaccine syringes and several versions of Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.
Masks were not the only pandemic-era concern to intrude: Some straphangers on the L train admitted that supply chain problems limited their costume options. “It shipped from Amazon on time,” was offered as an explanation for wrestlers in singlets, mermaids in fish-scale leggings and werewolf masks alike.
Laura Barnes and Jeff Impey, Manhattan residents who were traveling to meet Ms. Barnes’s cousin at an event in Brooklyn, were limited by the couples costumes available at the Spirit Halloween store where they shopped. Though they had other ideas, they settled for characters from the Angry Birds video game.
Still, even though the bulky polyester outfits weren’t their first choice, it was better than showing up to a Halloween festivity in street clothes — especially one with a costume contest (though they did not expect to win).
“It would be embarrassing not to have one,” Ms. Barnes, 30, said.