Mix of flavors spice parade

Organizers aimed to make Columbus Day fest more inclusive

Baltimore & Region


Along with the distinctly Italian-themed Christopher Columbus impersonator, full-sized gondola and pizza-dough tosser, Baltimore's annual Columbus Day parade yesterday afternoon made room for the Na Fianna Irish Pipe Band, the Egyptian Sun belly dancers and the Catonsville Amateur Samba Drum line.

"It's inclusive," said Thomas J. D'Alesandro III, mayor of Baltimore from 1967 to 1971 and the parade's grand marshal. "Rather than all about the man Columbus, we're drifting closer to celebrating the deed, the discovery of America."

Its welcoming attitude paid off: The 115th annual Baltimore Columbus Day parade drew 100 bands, floats, dignitaries, vehicles and other attractions, said Thomas J. Iacoboni, chairman of the board of directors of Columbus Celebrations Inc., the nonprofit group that organizes the parade with help from the Baltimore Office of Promotions & the Arts.

Iacoboni said the parade has grown by 30 percent since the celebration group was founded five years ago in an effort to revitalize the Columbus Day activities.

With 50 people on the committee where before there was only a handful, he said, "we took something that was dying ... and made it much larger." Corporate sponsorships, individual donations and funds raised during the Italian Festival - formerly held along with the parade but held this year in Towson in September - helped the organization raise $30,000 for the parade.

The firm financial footing meant more bands, more guest dignitaries and other features, such as huge balloons.

Hundreds lined the parade route to see balloons in the shape of 10-foot-tall hats in American flag colors, giant stars and an inflated, walking Italian chef. Spectators also watched as a two-story Statue of Liberty balloon pulled on a wheeled platform ducked under several traffic lights before collapsing at Mulberry Street.

Lady Liberty might have been out of commission, but the bands played on - 15 of them, including six from Baltimore high schools. A lone strolling accordionist also played his way from Mount Vernon Place to Little Italy.

Maria Hodge, 11, of Towson, summed up her favorite aspect in one word: "candy." She caught several treats, tossed from floats, as she sat on Charles Street with her parents, James and Andrea Hodge, and her brothers, Collin, 2, and Avery, 4.

"It's the first time we've been able to attend," James Hodge said.

"I do enjoy the antique cars and seeing people who represent our community and state. ... If a little candy comes my way, so much the better."

Riders on a float sponsored by Della Notte restaurant skipped the candy and lobbed chunks of pizza dough at the gathered crowds.

As the flatbed truck rolled through town, Jerry Neumann of Springfield, Ill., showed off his dough tossing, twirling and spinning skills. Neumann is a member of the United States Pizza Team, which, sponsored by Pizza Marketing Quarterly, competes in dough-tossing and pizza-making events, including the World Pizza Championships in Italy.

Neumann said he taught himself to toss pizza dough as a pizza restaurant employee.

"Working long nights, you've got to make work fun," he said.

But yesterday was the first time he tried to toss dough while on a moving vehicle.

"It is a little different," he said. "Hopefully I won't fall off."


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