Parade thrills crowd

November 03, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

On a rare short-sleeve November eve, dozens of marching bands, people in costume, floats and novelty acts paraded down Potomac Street on Saturday, wowing a crowd estimated at well over 100,000.

People packed nearly every curb, porch, step and grassy patch from Oak Hill Avenue to Wilson Boulevard, cheering and waving as the Alsatia Club Mummers' Parade passed by.

The 79th edition of the parade was one of the warmest anyone could remember. The air was about 65 degrees and still when the parade stepped off at 7 p.m., a sharp contrast to the biting, whipping winds of years past.


Real Life Community Church of Hagerstown set up a table in front of the Graber & Ross Chartered accounting firm, ready to give out up to 1,000 free cups of hot cocoa. It wasn't that kind of night. "But we're not complaining about the weather," volunteer Mary Lutz, 52, of Hagerstown, said.

The unexpected balminess appeared to keep Miss Washington County at ease in her sleeveless gown as she waved from the back of a white convertible.

"I remember huddling up in the big blankets," Jamie Barkdoll, 26, of Hagerstown, said of previous parades.

Lou Scally, a television weatherman and morning radio host, was the parade's grand marshal.

The Alsatia Club projected that there would be about 180 units in the parade.

James McCleaf II, the Alsatia Club's president and chairman of the parade, said Saturday afternoon that Hagerstown police were expecting up to 175,000 spectators.

Saturday night, Robert Hart, a retired Hagerstown Police Department major who helps coordinate police coverage of special events, said he thought the crowd was between 135,000 and 150,000.

After the police patrol cars leading the parade went through Public Square, the crowd cheered for a police bagpipe group that followed.

Spectators stood on tippy-toes and young children perched on adults' shoulders to see each new sight approaching in the distance.

Four clowns on a bicycle built for four preceded a pickup carrying Washington County's marble champions. Next came a troupe of Union and Confederate Civil War re-enactors.

Firefighters in a Halfway ladder truck, a Tri-State Farm Toys Collectors Club float and a Jack Russell terrier being pushed in a baby stroller each had its fans.

Christina Carey, 22, who has lived in Hagerstown for four years, hadn't seen a Mummers' Parade before. She said this is the first year she heard anyone mention it, so she went.

Carey had a sidewalk seat in front of John Wesley United Methodist Church. Next to her was a double-seated stroller with her son, Rasheed, 1, in the back and her goddaughter, Keia Williams, who will turn 3 on Tuesday, in the front.

Rasheed enjoyed the firetrucks, "with their big old lights," his mother said.

Indeed, the firetrucks' and ambulances' red and white spiraling lights cut through the night. On the sidelines, the hazy blue of the latest trendy glow sticks dotted the crowd.

Jadah Blair, 5, had a glow light pacifier in her mouth. Her mother, Lisa Graystokes, 26, and grandmother, Pam Dickerson, 46, were camped on a blanket behind her. In their raised spot on a sloped lawn, the women could see just over the four- and five-deep crowds on the sidewalk, people in lawn chairs set up many hours earlier.

Dickerson said she usually watches the parade among a throng near The Maryland Theatre, but she preferred the higher vantage point.

"I've liked the bands," she said. "They were really fantastic."

Numerous vendors pushing piled-high shopping carts took advantage of the large, comfortable crowd to hawk everything from glow sticks and inflated Scooby Doo balloons to toy guns that made realistic shooting noises.

Food was plentiful, too. A man with a pretzel pushcart lit fires in small fuel cylinders before setting out along the busy sidewalks. "Cotton candy here! One dollar!" another man bellowed.

Civic organizations and restaurants set up booths outside. A storefront next to Rocky's New York Pizza was turned into a food shop, with a menu that included apple dumplings and Eastern Shore hot dogs.

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