Columbus Day parade is ready to turn 100

Jacques Kelly

September 27, 1990|By Jacques Kelly

Baltimore is a town that does proud the Italian explorer who was financed by Spanish royalty. Our 100th Columbus Day Parade marches around the Inner Harbor Oct. 7.

Baltimore possess three Columbus monuments -- in Herring Run and Druid Hill parks and at the Inner Harbor, erected in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. And our parade is one that refuses to succumb to exhaustion.

"It's word of mouth, a tradition that this parade is the 100th," said Thomas J. D'Alesandro 3rd, the former mayor and general chairman of the event. "It's going to be a great parade, one that reflects all the city's ethnic groups."

The grand march, scheduled to get under way at 2 p.m. Oct. 7, begins on Key Highway and moves around Light to Pratt Street. Traditional Italian, Hispanic, African-American, Indian, Korean, Chinese and Greek organizations, plus several units of Philadelphia's Mummers will strut their stuff, accompanied by marching bands, floats and politicians.

At 10:15 a.m. Oct. 7, Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke are to lay wreaths at the Columbus Piazza, the attractive plaza adjacent to Scarlett Place where the city's newest Columbus monument sits. At 11:30, there will be a project-launching ceremony for the $200 million Christopher Columbus Center of Marine Research and Exploration at Pier Five. Flags will be hoisted for the ambitious redevelopment effort.

Baltimore's Columbus Day parade history is intertwined with 1892, when a handsome marble of the fabled sailor was unveiled in Druid Hill Park. This excellent piece of Victorian sculpture, recently cleaned, remains there today, with the navigator's eyes fixed on Druid Hill Lake.

Members of many of the city's oldest Italian families -- the Pipitones, Schiaffinos, Di Stefanos and Rettaliatas -- were present that day, the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America, as were scores of other invited guests and diplomats. The Spanish and Italian consuls were much in evidence, as was Cardinal James Gibbons, who blessed one and all. Professor Itzel's Military Band issued appropriate music -- "Santa Lucia," selections from the opera "Cavalareria Rusticana," and the William Tell Overture. Speeches droned on long into the day.

This year's parade takes a cue from the events of nearly a century ago. Families will don 1890s garb. An all-male Garibaldi unit, dressed in red shirts and black pants also will make the walk.

In Baltimore, it was the French, not the Italians, who first honored the discoverer. In 1792, a white obelisk went up at North Avenue and Harford Road, on the estate of a Frenchman who felt the U.S. needed to honor Columbus. The monument was subsequently moved to Walther Boulevard and Harford Road, at the edge of Herring Run Park.

Perhaps the Columbus Day that everyone would like to forget was the 1921 affair when a contretemps erupted between Mayor William F. Broening, a Republican, who had the Sons of Italy in tow, and Gov. Albert C. Ritchie, a Democrat, who was leading the United Italian Societies.

The mayor's forces got to Druid Hill Park first to lay wreaths and endure speeches, but then the governor and his followers arrived. Marching bands tried to blare out rivals and, by some accounts, a white horse charged into the crowd. The groups were properly repentant and vowed that peace and decorum would reign at future ceremonies. they did, apparently.

World War II cut down on large observances, but the show still went on. Italy, of course, was at war with the United States. "The whole nation looks forward to the day when Mussolini will be overthrown and the traditional friendship between the two countries shall be re-established," said the congressman and future mayor, Thomas J. D'Alesandro Jr., the father of this parade's general chairman, during his 1942 remarks. The next year, a group of British sailors unexpectedly got into the act and marched through War Memorial Plaza carrying the Union Jack, along with all the other Allied colors.

This year's parade and ceremonies are to be inclusive of many of the city's ethnic groups, including a large continent of Hispanic societies and associations.

Marching groups representing Spain, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Equador, Uruguay, Cuba, Argentina and Puerto Rico will be dressed in the traditional costumes and carrying appropriate flags.

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