N.Y. parade for Glenn falls short of buildup Estimated 500,000 honor shuttle crew, 77-year-old astronaut


NEW YORK -- With golden sunlight glazing the autumn leaves and a light breeze sweeping down Broadway, it seemed a great day to honor John Glenn, and for tens of thousands of people, it was.

But for the longest time yesterday morning, almost the only people to show up to honor the 77-year-old astronaut, U.S. senator and undisputed American hero were the police, firefighters and sanitation workers assigned to handle the crowd.

Once the parade got under way, crowds were -- by New York standards -- modest if not thin, with indications along the traditional parade route that Mayor Rudolph Giuliani might have overestimated the public's appetite for a third ticker-tape extravaganza since October.

Piles of special newspaper editions that were published to mark the parade remained unsold on sidewalks; once the parade started, the confetti that substitutes for ticker tape was sparse, and the large crowds never materialized.

While the police estimated that 500,000 people turned out to honor the astronauts of the recently returned space shuttle Discovery, the crowds were only three or four people deep along much of the parade route. A ticker-tape parade last month for the World Champion Yankees, by contrast, drew an estimated 3.5 million people.

Yesterday's turnout amounted to a pale reprise of the gigantic celebration for Glenn in March 1962 when he returned from his launch into space, the second American to do so. That parade set the all-time record for the dumping of ticker tape, 3,474 tons.

Corporations with offices along the parade route reported frenzied calls from mayoral aides urging them to dispatch employees to the street. Tickets to the private City Hall ceremony were being passed out until the last minute.

But for those who did show up, there were many cheerful scenes of people enjoying themselves during their brush with history. Fathers hoisted children on their shoulders, children waved American flags, and people lined up to buy commemorative T-shirts. A woman from Dallas beamed as she explained how she had emerged from the subway and found herself watching the parade.

One 34-year-old father, Matt Moran, brought his 3-year-old son, Harry, from Queens to watch from a second-floor office on Broadway. Moran carried a flag, and Harry a bullhorn. The two had been studying old National Geographic photographs of rocket missions in preparation for yesterday's events.

"This is a ticker-tape parade worthy of its participants," Moran said. "It's a connection with our history, history I want to pass on to my children."

Pub Date: 11/17/98

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