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Parade season rooted in tradition

Ron Davidson • Jun 3, 2013 at 3:00 PM

It could be said that we are in the midst of a parade season, beginning with the recent Memorial Day parade, and continuing with motorcycle “parades” during Bike Week. Many summer festivals in local communities include parades. But parades played a much greater role in Sandusky’s past, often as the centerpiece of a variety of public events, and as a symbol of the citizenship and community spirit of the participants.

One of the first Sandusky parades on record commemorated the beginning of the Mad River and Lake Erie Railroad, the first railroad in “the west.” On September 17, 1835, a procession that included local military groups, railroad officials, and Wyandot chiefs, marched from the Steamboat Hotel, at Water and Wayne Streets, to Battery Park for the dedication ceremony; a future President, William Henry Harrison, led the ground-breaking. The famous Civil War financier Jay Cooke witnessed the event as a boy (his father was a featured speaker), and wrote about it in his memoirs. A parade in 1935 observed the centennial of this event.

Parades were often the featured event of a larger commemoration to denote a group’s rising significance in the community. The growing Irish community in Sandusky celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in 1844 with a procession to the Catholic church for an oration, then to the Mansion House for a dinner – all done under “Temperance principles.” (The local chapter of the Sons of Temperance held a parade in Sandusky in 1847.) In 1853, the Yagers, Sandusky’s German-American militia, paraded down Water Street with a German brass band, in celebration of Pinkster Day, a festival commemorating Pentecost; this parade offended some in Sandusky, as it was held on the Sabbath.

In the early twentieth century, many social and civic organizations held their statewide or national conventions in Sandusky, usually at Cedar Point. Frequently the opening or concluding event of the convention was a parade through the city streets. The international convention of the Knights of St. John held a parade of 2500 members (described as a “monster parade” in a newspaper headline), marching from St. Mary’s Church through downtown streets and ending at Washington Park. The Ohio Elks held their convention at Cedar Point in 1921, and included a parade in their festivities.

And, not surprisingly, parades to commemorate national holidays were common. A July 4th parade was often a major event. In 1849, the Daily Sanduskian declared that “Our city has redeemed itself” by having a “good old-fashioned Fourth of July jollification” for the first time in many years – starting with a thirteen-gun salute, and followed by a march of the city’s fire companies through the main streets. The national centennial, on July 4, 1876, was a substantial celebration in Sandusky; it included a regatta, speeches, fireworks, and, of course, a parade, which started downtown on Columbus Avenue and concluded two miles later at the fairgrounds on Wayne Street. Photographs of the celebrations are in the Sandusky Library’s archival collections.

As in most American communities, patriotic parades, particularly during wartime, were among the most popular of the many types of parades. The Grand Army of the Republic marched in Sandusky in 1895 to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the end of the Civil War. During the Spanish-American War, Company B of the Sixth regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry (formed in Sandusky) was given a departure parade, attended by 10,000 spectators, in April 1898. They were welcomed home with another parade up Columbus Avenue in May 1899. And in 1905, a veterans’ parade included marchers from both wars.

During World War I, a “patriotism parade” drew about 5,000 participants, some of whom were coerced to show support for an unpopular war and to prove their “Americanism” in a German-American community. After the war, the American Legion sponsored another parade, along with a movie to continue to promote patriotism and celebrate victory in the war. Similarly, at the end of World War II, Sandusky hosted the All-Ohio Veterans Get-Together Day in 1946 to celebrate the end of war and the homecoming for military veterans.

This long description is just a small sample of the many parades in Sandusky’s history. We haven’t even mentioned the popular circus parades or the city centennial and sesquicentennial celebrations. Sanduskians have loved parades of all kinds.

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