The volunteers lifted the boat out of the van, pulled out a 4-foot fake pineapple shell and began assembling them. A few feet away, Jacob Eldred waited in his chair.
The Halloween Parade was going to start in a few minutes and Eldred was going to be in it riding a Spongebob Squarepants- themed contraption strapped over his wheelchair.
A few yards away, more than 300 ghosts, superheroes and a walking bowl of macaroni and cheese strolled Main Street in Cortland, trick-or-treating before a Halloween parade sponsored by Cortland Elks Lodge 748.
“I’m excited for him,” said Michelle Eldred, Jacob’s mother. “I think he loves his costume.”
Jacob Eldred, 17, has cerebral palsy. He’s nearly blind and doesn’t participate in parades. But he loves Spongebob, and has since he was 3 or 4.
“Part of the reason he likes Spongebob is the colors, the lights, the sounds,” said Amanda Truin of Magic Wheelchair, a non-profit that assembled more than a half-dozen artists, designers and builders from Binghamton and Cortland to create the Halloween costume.
Around the corner, 4-year-old Coltyn Ganoung drew glances as he collected goodies dressed as a bowl of macaroni and cheese.
“He loves macaroni and cheese,” said his father, Rob Ganoung of Cortland.
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The trick-or-treating, a parade, and events afterward brought a lot of costumers — the entire Incredibles family was there, and a clan of the undead, and a lot of clowns (some of them pretty creepy), a kid dressed as a UPS truck and driver, a space shuttle — but the costumes weren’t the important part. The kids were, said Amanda Funk, exalted ruler of the Elks lodge.
“Having a children’s activity where everyone can participate is huge for us,” Funk said.
Children like Jacob Eldred.
His mother connected with Magic Wheelchair, which cobbled together the team, including artist Crystal Lyon of Cortland and builders from Triple Cities Makerspace in Binghamton.
“Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to make this happen,” Lyon said.
The boat was made from PVC pipe and foam with the pineapple made from hula-hoops, PVC pipes, wire and foam, Truin said. The inspiration for the costume came from the “most iconic” images from the show, in Spongebob’s pineapple home and boat car.
Making Jacob Eldred’s costume the brightest of the parade were LED lights installed on the inside of the pineapple. Speakers inside played tunes from the show, too.
The costume took a month to make as Truin and Lyon worked on it in their free time, measuring Jacob’s wheelchair, designing a fake wheelchair to mock up the design and considering Jacob’s mobility.
Work finished two days before the parade, but Truin said it was worth the effort.
“I want him to feel like he’s included in this (the parade) with everybody and just feel like he’s special,” Truin said.
As the parade stepped up from Main Street and Groton Avenue, headed south, then turned east on Court Street and through a parking lot to the Cortland Repertory Theatre Downtown on Port Watson Street, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz stood with the Tin Man and Scarecrow, a walking jack-in-the-box mugged for a camera, and princesses mingled with rock stars. A walking out- house — in an older category in the costume contest — and a giant molar stood out, as did a whack-a-mole game.
Behind them, Jacob’s boat, mounted with a pineapple house, rolled. He was in his parade, after all.
Managing Editor Todd R. McAdam contributed to this report.