The youngsters lined up along Main Street, Monday morning, September 1, could not settle on any one thing they were looking forward to in the 2014 Newtown Labor Day Parade that was about to step off, just a mile up the road. But Anna and Abigail Coughlin’s father settled it for them: “They’re waiting for the candy, the candy!” he said.
Clustered beneath trees or beneath tents — originally pitched to ward off the showers predicted late last week — or enjoying the heat of the late summer morning, it was an excited crowd anticipating the start of the parade.
Brendan Sheehan, a Queen Street resident, said that he has celebrated at least 37 Labor Day Parades.
“And my sons, Logan, who is 6, and Devin, who is 13, have been to every one since they were born,” he declared.
Up at the flagpole, the behemoth National Flag was unfurled, with dozens of volunteers of all ages spread out on every side to carry it the entire length of the parade. There was just one glitch, emcees John Voket and Susan Lang discovered at the flagpole grandstand: the sound system was not working. After a few minutes of technical wizardry, the microphones came back, but there was no way to play the national anthem.
Fortunately, Ms Lang came to the rescue. The Newtown Middle School teacher stepped up and within moments, the verses of the national anthem rang out loud and clear, with the newest Labor Day Parade emcee lending her vocals.
With that, the flag set off and the parade was underway.
The Newtown High School Marching Band looked smart, instruments held high and everyone in step behind the NHS color guard and the skillful baton twirlers. Not far behind came this year’s Grand Marshal, Sydney Eddison, riding atop a red convertible and merrily tossing flowers — what else, for the author of numerous gardening books? — to bystanders.
Children, however, were eager for other goodies, greeting each group that passed by with shouts of “Candy! Candy!” It was a wish nearly universally accommodated, although the Dental Associates had the antidote for worried parents. The Tooth Fairy and her helpers distributed toothbrushes and toothpaste along the way.
Plenty of politicians joined this year’s parade, from the Governor Dannel Malloy, marching alongside Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra, to lesser known but eager Democratic and Republican candidates. Stickers, handshakes, and literature flowed freely, and if a baby or two was kissed, it would not be a surprise.
Just one band would never be enough in a parade. The skirling of bagpipes, the thumping of drums, and the piping of pipes from longtime favorite bands like The Litchfield Hills Pipe Band, or the newer entry drum band, the Marching Cobras of New York, had paradegoers clapping enthusiastically.
Then it was on your feet for a little street dancing for many along the sidelines when the Connecticut Tiare Polynesian Dance Troup or the Orchestra La Yunquena Salsa band passed by. The Doug Wahlberg Band raised a wave of applause with a musical float promoting the annual Night of Music to support the Lebo-DeSantie Center for Pancreatic and Liver Disease (this year on November 22, at the Fairfield University Quick Center).
Floats this year did their best to reflect the parade theme, “Write On, Newtown!” Books, blackboards, and educational topics dominated colorful entries, creatively interpreting the theme. Judges could not help but love the Newtown Congregational Church float. Not only celebrating its 300th year as a place of worship in Newtown, the Congregational float celebrated its long history with Newtown Meeting House, as well, where early settlers first worshipped. First place for Best Float was awarded to Newtown Congregational Church.
There were moments of solemnity, as well, as paradegoers showed their respect for members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and other service-related groups.
Marchers with The Avielle Foundation, founded after the death of first grader Avielle Richman on 12/14, reminded all that understanding violence is the first step to solving it. A truck festooned in pink was promoting a culture of kindness; Newtown Kindness is a foundation resulting from the death of Charlotte Bacon, another student killed at SHS.
Marchers from Sandy Hook Elementary School received long applause, its Magic School Bus float’s positive message of “Think You Can, Work Hard, Get Smart, Be Kind,” striking a chord with all who watched. Judges awarded Best School to Sandy Hook.
Volunteer firefighters from all five of Newtown’s companies set an example for the perspiring crowd cheering them on. They barely broke a sweat in the 90 degree heat and humidity, it seemed, whether marching in dress uniform or heavy gear. The long lines of shining fire trucks delighted the crowd, whether modern trucks with gadgets galore or the antique engines slowly making their ways down the street.
At times, it was necessary to keep in mind that it was a parade, not a zoo. Prancing horses, miniature ponies, the majestic work horses towing the Wells Fargo Coach, a donkey in a sun hat, a couple of goats, and many, many dogs of all shapes and sizes captivated the attention of young and old.
Not to be outdone, the Shriners tiny motor car brigade, jugglers, karate practitioners, tumblers, and trick bicyclists tickled the crowd, with many thrilled to get a hug from a giant Goofy character or a clown with a honking horn.
As the parade reached its apex, there was a low drone high above the tree tops. Necks craned upward to catch a glimpse of the vintage B-17 aircraft soaring above the parade route, with many an “Ooh” and “Ahh” to be heard.
The clock neared noon, and the rumble that heralds the end of the parade was heard. Down the road came the line of antique tractors, signaling paradegoers to fold up chairs, pick up water bottles, and head off to picnics and barbeques. Another Newtown Labor Day Parade was history.
“The Labor Day Parade Committee was thrilled with this year’s parade,” said Committee President Beth Caldwell. “Thanks to all who made this great Newtown event a huge success. The variety and diversity was tremendous this year and was much appreciated by paradegoers. Musical entries were amazing. ‘Write on, Newtown!’ took on new meaning as we all danced down Main Street,” she said, “and how about the B-17 bomber? From the streets to the skies,” exclaimed Ms Caldwell, “what a special day in Newtown!”