Remembering the State Fair parade
The mayor and others have complained about the state fair’s plans to change the route of its annual Twilight Parade. In my view, they didn’t change it enough: a better route would have the parade conclude at its traditional destination at the north end of the Grandstand after beginning at the south end of the Grandstand.
Not everybody loves a parade, as I made clear in this column from Aug. 20, 1987, back when paraders trudged down Ninth Street all the way from downtown.
The original has been edited for length.
“I gotta tell the guys in New York about this,” I said to myself. New Yorkers are pretty vain about the zaniness of their street life. But when, I planned to ask them, was the last time they had seen grown men and women wearing brown trash bags marching behind a portable outhouse bearing the legend, “U-Dump-It” smack in front of their house?
I admit that this is livelier stuff than I usually see on my block, which on most Wednesday evenings is filled with raspy-throated Baptists heading home from choir practice, people who, if they wear trash bags, do it at home. On this night, however, my block, like a dozen or more like it on Springfield’s downtown east side, had been commandeered for use as the staging area for the preview night parade which kicks off the Illinois State Fair. The staging has become an annual inconvenience. Kids pester you to use your toilets, and the stink of horse manure is never quite removed from your curbside by the street sweepers; two years ago I came home from work testy and tired, looking forward to dinner and quiet conversation, to find a drum and bugle corps blaring away within 15 feet of my living room window.
Usually I have a high tolerance for organized childishness. I still occasionally vote, for instance, and eat in restaurants. As a boy I watched uncounted parades, my father then being in the marching band business. I thrilled to the sounds of a brass band for years, until the public schools began cutting back on music instruction. But I am a grown man now, wise enough about the world to have drafted Krohe’s Rules of Promotion, one of which is that any event which needs a parade to drum up interest probably shouldn’t be held in the first place. This rule applies universally to wars and circuses, and to state fairs when they are held in the Midwest.
I did not in truth have much time to study this year’s marchers comprehensively. I was too busy dodging sheriff’s deputies in golf carts, and preparing my evening’s escape to a ball game. I had noticed in the paper that the parade theme this year was “A Trip Through Candy Land.” Considering the parade route – up Ninth Street, through two dozen blocks of cityscape so drab, so ugly that a tornado might sweep through it and qualify for a beautification award – the choice of theme went beyond irony into the surreal.
The parade’s route, however, had nothing on the entrants themselves. One category was won by a White Hen Pantry, another by an upstate Chamber of Commerce which chose to represent hometown pride with a riverboat called the Pride of Ottawa – a craft which no longer exists on the Illinois, practically speaking. David Byrne would have loved this parade, I thought; the next day I was convinced that he had judged it. The Lincoln Award was presented to a walking Crimestoppers demonstration for what the papers called “the best characterization of the romance of Illinois.”
The parade included a lawn mower drill team, and Citizens United for the right to Bare Arms, who carried the limbs of mannequins. (I was not there to see it, but I would have cried tears of delight had those marchers lifted their arms in salute – “Arms, left!” – as they passed the prosthetic clinic located a bit west of Ninth at Carpenter.
As I drove slowly past police barricades trying to leave my own block for the ball game, dodging militant Christians and midget horses and cops on horseback, I wondered again why next year’s parade couldn’t be staged on, say, Glenwood Avenue, where the mayor lives. . . . [And] there are enough acres of parking lot along Ninth and Eleventh streets downtown to stage another Battle of Bull Run, much less a parade. Each of these lots is as empty as a [city council] commissioner’s book bag by four minutes after five every day.
Until I hear news of such a relocation, I intend to console myself with the thought that hosting this year’s preview of the preview parade could have been worse. Ernie Banks was the parade grand marshal. In his enthusiasm he might have said, “Let’s have two!”
Contact James Krohe Jr. at CaptBogue@outlook.com.