100 years later, Baltimore's Columbus Day parade is quintessentially American

October 08, 1990|By Joel McCord

For 100 years, the Sons of Italy and the Knights of Columbus have paraded through the streets of Baltimore in the middle of October to honor Christopher Columbus, the Genoan navigator credited with discovering the New World.

And yesterday, a golden Sunday afternoon with skies a Mediterranean blue, was no different -- except, of course, for the Chinese Dragon Dancers, the Trinidad and Tobago Steel Band, the Federacion Hispanica and the Club Peru. It was an effort, parade organizers said, to include all of Baltimore's ethnic communities.

The effect wasn't lost on Salvatore Marella, who watched from the sidewalk along Pratt Street wearing a red, white and green baseball cap with the legend, "Old Italians never die, they just pasta away."

"It gets better and better every year," he concluded, waiting for the steel band and a corps of costumed dancers that was headed his way. "I especially like all the different nations, the costumes. We never had that before. It's very interesting."

The parade -- the oldest in the nation for Columbus Day -- stepped off precisely at 2 p.m. from Key Highway and Covington Street where Valerie Lasauskas, a volunteer organizer, shouted orders through a microphone.

"Will the Navy band, will the Navy band -- " her voice trailed off as members of the U.S. Naval Academy band, the lead unit, quickly fell into place. "OK everyone, we're ready to start."

As she began counting down from 10, other volunteer organizers held up fingers to count. "Three, two, one. Let's have a parade!"

she ordered.

The band stepped off, followed by parade marshals: Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, in shirt sleeves, and Gov. William Donald Schaefer, with his jacket flipped over his shoulder, flanked former Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro III, proudly wearing a sash in the green, white and red colors of his family's Italian homeland.

"It's great, it's unbelievable," Mr. D'Alesandro had been gushing a few minutes earlier. "And that," he added, pointing to a group in period costumes that re-created the first Columbus Day parade, "is the most emotional part of all for me."

Mr. D'Alesandro, the mayor and the governor took part shortl

before the parade in a flag-raising ceremony to mark the beginning of work on the Christopher Columbus Center of Marine Research and Exploration at Pier 5 downtown.

The center, a $200 million project financed with federal, state, local and private money, is planned to open in 1992, housing research, conference and tourist facilities.

As the parade moved toward Light Street on a route around the Inner Harbor to the edge of Little Italy, three young women representing Columbus' three ships -- the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria -- held on to railings, waving and smiling bravely as their float lurched forward.

They had been recruited by their mothers, members of th

American Committee on Italian Migration. And although they said they were reluctant at first, they agreed they were excited by parade time.

"I was excited, I guess," said Laurie Mantegna, a Syracuse University student home for a few days and playing Miss Pinta. "My cousin did it two years ago and she said it was a lot of fun."

Italian folk dancing clubs, string bands and the others went past sparse crowds on Key Highway and parts of Light Street, but by the time the marchers passed Harborplace, the spectators stood four and five deep along the sidewalks, politely applauding.

"Christopher, Christoper!" screamed three women in blue T-shirts perched at the top of a hill near the Light Street Pavilion. "EEEeeee," they shrieked as a man dressed as the navigator waved back from a float. When another costumed Columbus, alone on a second float, said he needed some crew, the women ran down the hill to join him, but then had second thoughts and quickly backed away.

A man in blue slacks, a white shirt and a cigar clenched between his teeth tried a Baltimore version of the Mummers' strut as the Durning String Band from Gloucester, N.J., went by, only to be outdone by the band's leader, Jack Hee, in feathered costume and headdress.

But it wasn't until the Monaldi Brothers ("music for all occasions") went by on the back of a truck loudly playing a tarantella that the reserved crowd came alive, clapping loudly in time with the music.

Behind them, riders on other floats threw candy and wave

half-full wine glasses from beneath signs declaring, "Winemaking, an Italian family tradition."

Near Pratt and Fleet streets, Anna Scilipati Fowler, whose father arrived in Baltimore from Sicily in 1913, watched from her lawn chair. She hasn't missed a parade in as long as she can remember, she said.

"She loves a parade," cracked her husband, Ed Fowler.

But this one, said Mrs. Fowler, who was christened and made her first communion at St. Leo's Roman Catholic Church in Little Italy, was special -- the 100th anniversary of the parade and it was "one of the best," she said.

"You couldn't ask for better."

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