It rained on the St. Patrick's Day parade. And sleeted. And snowed.
But while the famed Irish luck seemed scarce yesterday, Irish pluck was in abundance.
The pipers piped, the Ancient Order of Hibernians tipped their top hats and a bearded St. Patrick threw snowballs at the crowd.
"If the Irish stayed in every time it rained, they never would have gotten anything done," reckoned parade chairman Mike Flynn.
Although fewer than half of the 116 units scheduled to participate in the parade marched, organizers who had been planning the event for almost a year weren't about to let the gloomy weather cancel their plans.
"We had made too many commitments," said Sally Murphy, a longtime St. Patrick's Day parade organizer.
When she arrived at the reviewing stand on Pratt Street at 8 a.m., nearly six hours before the start of the parade, she was hopeful the weather forecasters had been mistaken.
Sure, a couple of flurries were blowing in the air, but the sun was making a brave attempt to shine through the clouds.
Murphy had seen all sorts of weather troubles in her years as a parade organizer.
She recalled that in 1977, the chairman had canceled the parade because of rain, only to have the sun come out an hour later. In 1993, the parade had been postponed by a blizzard.
But for the most part, the Irish had been lucky since reviving the parade in 1956 after a long hiatus.
Murphy began taking paper wrapping off pots of mums that decorated the reviewing stand. Yellow ones had been ordered, but they hadn't bloomed in time, so the florist sent white.
"White goes better with the snow," Murphy joked.
This was one year when nothing seemed to go right, she said.
Some of the parade officials didn't receive their orange, white and green sashes because the post office had intercepted them and returned them to the manufacturer with a note that military merchandise would have to be inspected for explosives.
Then came the dire weather prediction of up to a foot of snow.
The Naval Academy Band that was supposed to have led the parade canceled, leaving the honor to the Na Fianna Irish Pipe Band. None of the cheerleaders showed up and some of the floats were empty. Many of the antique car drivers stayed home. So did the Oriole Bird and Precious the Dog.
"I'm so disappointed because it isn't going to be a big parade," said Pat Zanti, who brought her granddaughter, Lauren Zanti, 9, and her friend Kari Hockey, 9, from Arbutus to see the festivities. They stood huddled under an awning on Charles Street, the girls wrapped in a purple afghan.
For parade organizers, there was no turning back.
The parade, held in honor of the saint who brought Christianity to Ireland, has been growing in popularity each year.
Baltimore started holding the parade during the last century, although the tradition stopped between 1910 and 1956. Since resuming, the event has become more popular, drawing tens of thousands of spectators.
While St. Patrick's Day remains a rather low-key affair in Ireland, in the United States, a parade is a must. Organizers had been working nearly a year, raising money, lining up bands and floats, ordering cars and inviting politicians.
At 1: 40 p.m., with the snow falling heavily, the 5K race, held to help raise money for the parade, started on schedule.
A few minutes later, fire sirens sounded and police cars raced up Charles Street toward the starting point of the parade.
They were responding to a two-alarm fire at the Stafford Tower Apartments, a half-block north of where the parade was about to begin at the Washington Monument.
Residents of the apartments, at North Charles and West Madison streets, rushed through the parade participants to Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, where they stayed for about 20 minutes while firefighters brought a small blaze under control. No one was injured.
Roberta Flynn, who helped coordinate the start of the parade, said the fire didn't attract much attention.
"I knew it was a fire, but I didn't realize it was so close," Flynn said. "I thought the trucks were part of the parade."
At Light and Pratt streets, Murphy huddled under the hood of a green raincoat and clutched a notebook that grew increasingly soggy as the snow turned to rain.
The bows she and other volunteers had helped make hung limply from the half-empty reviewing stand.
A few dozen spectators offered muffled applause as the last of the units marched past.
"We have a day to remember, even if we didn't have a parade to remember," she said.
Sun staff writer Amy Oakes contributed to this article.
Pub Date: 3/15/99