Susan Johnson, a Tucson artist, started All Souls
Procession in 1990 as she grieved her father’s
death. In Tucson, artists tend to group together.
Susan sent out an invitation to friends and then
friends of friends. This was back before the Internet,
when your friends were really your friends. They
had to be physically present in your space to be
called your friend. People shared a different level of
commitment and intimacy back then.
All Souls Procession aligns with Halloween and the
seasonal recognition of the cycle of death and rebirth.
When Susan gathered her artist friends to create this
ceremony, it was in the same cultural line as Mexico’s
Dia de los Muertos. Because Tucson is close to Mexico
and so many people have family both here and there,
we assimilated their culture in honoring lost relatives
and death. Mexican culture flows across the border
whether there's a wall or not.
The Procession started from maybe 10 to 20 people.
The year 200 people participated, I said, "I am
motivated. I want to take this over. I have the energy
for it." Susan had been doing it for seven years. She
said, "Go ahead. I've been doing this long enough
and I've grown it to this point. If you have the energy
for it and you're excited about it, then have at it."
I didn't want to limit the participation to private
invitation, so I started putting up flyers, which is how
you did it back in the day. You'd draw them, and then
take them to a Kinko's and make crappy black and
white copies. Then you'd put them up all over town.
Susan had set up a model where the preparation of
the art that was used for the Procession was a vital
part of the event. The flyers invited the general public
to free workshops in performance, float building,
puppet, mask, and lantern making. I wanted more
than just 200 participants in the All Souls Procession.
I never expected the current participation of more
The main thrust of our invitation is that the All Souls
Procession is open to everyone. I see an incredible
amount of diversity in the people who come and
how they choose to use the Procession. I’ve seen
priests in full Catholic regalia walking with a censer.
I know he was a real priest because people asked
him, "Are you for real, dude?" He was like, "Yes, I
am for real. I'm for real. This is not a costume. This
is me. I'm doing my thing." There are many church
groups that come with banners that name their
It’s healing to be physically
in the presence of hundreds
of thousands of other people
who are willing to be in this
very fragile state.
68 | ART OF DYING