Baltimore no greenhorn at St. Patrick's parade

Spectators turn out in full force for event celebrating heritage

March 19, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Patti Volkman and Gerry Sipes hunkered down on a little slice of sidewalk, armed with everything they'd need to brave yesterday's parade.

Blankets? Check. Cooler? Check. Green hair spray? Check.

Emphasis on the green. After all, it was St. Patrick's Day -- or at least parade day, the day after -- and what is a festival without green-haired kids?

"How often do you get to celebrate your Irish heritage? You can't do it every day. People would think you were nuts if you walked around with green hair," said Sipes of Mayfield, who, with her three youngsters and the Volkmans, staked out a spot at Charles and West Hamilton streets. "They'd think you're a freak."

They weren't alone. Patti Volkman of Parkville may have sprayed the kids' hair -- normally blond and brown -- a bright shade of shamrock green, but it was nothing compared to the green-tinged poodles or the elaborate homemade green hats.

For a weekend, at least, the city changed its colors. A Baltimore obsessed with purple in the wake of the Ravens' Super Bowl win was awash in green yesterday as marching bands and dancers and dignitaries made their way on floats and in Jeeps through the streets of downtown Baltimore -- playing the bagpipes, presenting their color guards, walking along.

And for once, the weather cooperated.

No snow and sleet like in 1999. No rain like last year.

Yesterday was sunny with temperatures in the upper 40s and wind gusts that blew so cold they chilled even the hardiest spectators.

The sunny weather brought out thousands who clogged sidewalks to watch 101 marching units step off at the Washington Monument and trek down Charles Street to Pratt Street and then to Market Place.

In the tradition of parades past, the politicians, too, came out in force, led by Mayor Martin O'Malley, Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

In Baltimore, it was time for a parade -- albeit a day after the holiday. But at least the city's Irish could celebrate, unlike folks in Dublin, who found their festivities canceled amid fears of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

For those who lined Charles Street a few blocks south of the monument, Michael O'Shea, armed with a microphone, stood on his makeshift grandstand outside the bar that bears his name -- Mick O'Shea's -- and greeted each of the marching groups.

"This year was decent," he said later. "It was a good, blustery Irish day."

Near the monument, Ned O'Byrne, a parade worker, checked off the marchers, making sure the groups were on time and in order.

"Every year it's bigger. Every year, it's better," said O'Byrne, a city police officer who says he's "FBI" -- Full-Blooded Irish.

With the parade winding down two hours after its start, the street sweepers came out in force. And Mike Williams of Northwood trudged back along the parade route to the start. He had marched, decked out in kilt, white sweater and knee-high socks, with the St. Andrew's Society of Baltimore.

He was energized, he said, and was used to marching from his time as a Civil War re-enactor.

"This is a good day, and the temperature turned out to be great if you're marching," Williams, who owns a contracting firm, as the wind gusted -- again. "Ideal for the marchers, not great for the public."

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