Marching into the holidays

UPFRONT

November 21, 1996|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,SUN STAFF

There are few Baltimore traditions still going on today that began in 1936. The Thanksgiving Parade is one of them.

Still, there have been some changes, and not just when it comes to the floats or participants.

From 1936 to 1967, Baltimore's Thanksgiving Day Parade was actually held on Thanksgiving Day on Howard Street. But the parade was discontinued in 1967 because city officials believed people were more interested in watching live, televised extravaganzas on Thanksgiving Day rather than Baltimore's parade.

However, 15 years later, when interest in reviving the parade grew, the solution was obvious: Change the day. It resumed on the Saturday before the holiday. The route changed several times, but finally, in 1992, it was concentrated around the Inner Harbor, down Pratt Street. It begins at Camden Yards and moves east on Pratt Street to Market Place.

Clowns, cheerleaders, color guards, horses and hounds are among the participants in this year's parade. The dogs are courtesy of Larry Geier, who rides a motorcycle with his helmet-clad basset hounds.

At least the hounds get to ride along the parade route. Not so for members of the rope-jumping Ebony Angels Double Dutch Team.

"They will jump double-dutch the entire length of the parade," says Rick Kirwan, their coach and manager. The Ebony Angels, who are based in Dorchester County on the Eastern Shore, are obviously in good physical condition to pull that off.

But they also have to be good students to participate on the

award-winning team, Kirwan says.

"We practice weekly throughout the year and compete all over the country and Canada," Kirwan says. Being a member of the team does require being in good physical condition, and it encourages teamwork and cooperation, the coach says.

The Ebony Angels Double Dutch Team is just one of many attractions.

Some of the other favorites will be around again, such as the all-terrain cycles, flying carpets and floats from the Boumi Temple Shriners. The popular marching bands on the parade route include the Frederick Douglass High School Marching Band from Baltimore and the Dulaney Valley High School Marching Band from Baltimore County.

For the civic-minded among us, there will be the Voter Registration Float.

Mascots along the parade route include the Oriole Bird, the Inner Harbor Ice Rink's Perky the Penguin and the National Aquarium's Puffin.

Then there is the prize-winning float of the Baltimore Opera Supers, a volunteer organization that supports the Baltimore Opera.

"We've won first prize for quite a while now," says Lola Civis, a volunteer with the Supers who is active in the float presentation.

"But, of course, we don't do it for that. We do this to promote the opera," Civis says. "But it's been fun winning!"

The Baltimore Opera Supers have had a float in the Thanksgiving Parade for the past five years -- and their float has won first prize for the past three years, Civis says.

"Last year, it was a gingerbread house," Civis says.

Hansel and Gretel were aboard, a motif that came straight from )) an opera. "That float was opera," she says. "We take that same [gingerbread house] float and do wonderful things with it."

It helps that one of the volunteers is an engineer who is instrumental in designing the floats, Civis says.

Civis and the rest of the dozen or so volunteers are working on a float that will look like a house from the past for this year's Thanksgiving Parade.

"We are building a log cabin. There will be two people 'cooking' a traditional Thanksgiving meal on the float," she says.

Several people will be on the float. Besides the couple who will be cooking, "the other people will basically be waving at the people," she says.The actors will look the part. "I am making the costumes now," says Civis, who is a stickler for authenticity. They will be in the traditional somber Thanksgiving garb that the pilgrims wore, with added bright touches of white caps and aprons.

Civis enjoys the theatrical aspects of the parade, but even though the float represents the opera, there will be no singing. "People do always ask us to sing," she says.

Although the organization is for adults, there's no doubt that the floats are meant to appeal to kids and to the young at heart. "The floats are geared toward children," Civis says.

The Thanksgiving Parade is not the only one this now famous float team has joined.

You may also have seen the Supers' displays in parades for Preakness, St. Patrick's Day and Christmas.

"I love, love, love doing this!" Civis says. "It's reaching a whole new audience."

Of course, for many of us, Thanksgiving is the official opening of the holiday season. And who better to usher in the Christmas season than Santa Claus, whose arrival is, for many, the highlight of the day. Santa and his better half, Mrs. Claus, will arrive at the Inner Harbor on the day of the parade.

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