And the parade went on

Columbus Day: The annual event, a source of Italian-American pride, is hampered by dreary weather and fears about the sniper.

October 14, 2002|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Marching past a sparse curbside audience, and with school bands missing because of the sniper scare, Baltimore's Italian-American community staged its annual Columbus Day parade yesterday for the 112th consecutive year.

But concern about the sniper that prompted schools to cancel band participation also brought spectators to the city - Marianne and Paul Noone, who made the trek to Baltimore's Inner Harbor from Silver Spring and were unexpectedly drawn to the sound of beating drums.

The adult bands, colorful floats and candy-throwing participants that made up the procession were a welcome relief, they said, for the cabin fever their two elementary-age children have endured from being confined much of the time to school and house during the Washington-area response to the wave of sniper shootings.

"We decided to come to Baltimore, hoping he hasn't extended his reach to here," Marianne Noone said from her Pratt Street perch near the National Aquarium.

"They've been locked up in their classrooms all week. ... They've got to run somewhere."

The Noones had little company. The parade, a source of Italian-American pride in the city for more than a century, drew few spectators along its mile-and-a-half route.

No one could say for sure why the parade route was so bare yesterday - perhaps the cool and damp weather, although some suspected that fear of the sniper kept people away.

"We have to attribute it to the sniper, because it's extremely unusual for the crowd to be this light," said a disappointed Thomas J. Iacoboni, the parade chairman. He estimated that the event drew about one-third the usual crowd.

Continuing concern about the random violence also left the parade seven bands short. Every high school band that had signed up to march pulled out, Iacoboni said.

"Anywhere we could not provide or guarantee security, then that was an event considered not open to our bands to participate," said Charles A. Herndon, spokesman for the Baltimore County schools.

At least two county high school bands had been scheduled to march, he said, adding, "It's regrettable, but these are unfortunate times, and we have to put the security of students and staff first."

Those who turned out said the parade was enjoyable, but the sparse attendance left organizers and spectators shaking their heads. Last year's parade drew the usual numbers, though it was held a month after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, organizers said.

"It's kind of disappointing, especially here," said Allan Schwartz of Rosedale as he watched the marchers from his spot next to the reviewing stand on President Street. "Usually, you come here and it's hard to get a front-row seat."

In Baltimore, the Italian-American community's homage to explorer Christopher Columbus traditionally draws smaller crowds than most parades do.

And, sniper or not, the crowds have been dwindling, said former Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro III, the parade's honorary chairman.

But hopes were high that the parade would draw more interest this year. Italian-American participation has always been strong, and the parade featured several new organizations this year. Five adult bands marched, organizers said.

Annual participants said they saw more floats and more cars this year. The colors of Italy - red, green and white - were on full display.

"The fact is, the parade went on. It continued its 100-year streak," Iacoboni said. "Italians should be proud of that."

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