Parade of connections

Posted 6/6/24

I’ve never been in a parade. Well, actually I have although not of my own planning.

Saturday is parade day, the center piece to Gaspee Days. Now, if you don’t know what Gaspee is …

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Parade of connections


I’ve never been in a parade. Well, actually I have although not of my own planning.

Saturday is parade day, the center piece to Gaspee Days. Now, if you don’t know what Gaspee is other than a Canadian peninsula, you obviously aren’t a Rhode Islander. I’ll confess I needed to be educated when we moved to the Ocean State and East Providence in 1968, but it wasn’t until I started reporting for the Beacon that I learned how passionate people can become over an incident that took place off Warwick shores more than 250 years ago. The late 60s and 70s were the early years of a celebration and an observance that has now come to span nearly a month. Food played a role in the early beginnings as I learned from Henry Brown and Don Conlon. Henry, the historian with the family lineage linking him to the Gaspee affair in 1772, was one of the instigators of a clam bake. It had roots in the Republican Ward 1 Committee that quickly out grew a neighborhood gathering. As much fun as the bake was, it became unmanageable and was abandoned.

I’m sure Henry remembers how that evolved into a parade and so much more, although food and drink still hold prominent positions in the celebration and its planning. Dave Stackhouse, if my recollection serves me well, was a Rhode Island carpetbagger like me, and one of most adamant promoters of a Gaspee parade and the celebration. He was constantly talking about the significance of the event and how Rhode Islanders should pay greater attention to their heritage. And he was right.

I’m straying from the parade.

The Gaspee Days parade is no minor undertaking not that spectators realize that. In keeping with the historical significance of the burning of the HMS Gaspee off Namquid Point (renamed Gaspee Point) the emphasis is on Colonial groups. Yet it is also a community and family affair. And, from my perspective that’s what makes it such a special occasion.

As a practice, I show up at the intersection of Narragansett Parkway and Spring Green about 20 minutes before the Pawtuxet Rangers fire the first volley at 10 a. m. to start the line of march. By that time, divisions are lined up and organizers – usually Mark Russell is out in front directing state and local officials where they should go – racing back and forth to place groups in their assigned slot. It’s a bit confusing especially as late arrivals weave their way through the crowd and motorists who evidently have no clue as to what’s happening are stopped from using the parkway. Be prepared to park some distance from the parade route and walk in. Of course that suggests you’re an outsider. Don’t feel out of place. That’s part of fun of the Gaspee parade. Remember this is Rhode Island and you’ll find people from as far away Cranston even West Warwick and East Greenwich… maybe your neighbors. Better still, they bring stocked coolers.

And if you don’t find a familiar face among the spectators, which is unlikely, you’re sure to see them in the parade whether waving from a school float, scooting around in go-carts as the Shriners do or in the phalanx of marching school bands, police and firefighters. That’s part of the show. The spectators are also engaged. They cheer from their lawn chairs. Kids race to grab candy cast from floats, throw poppers on the pavement, wave flags and are wide eyed and cover their ears as militia stop and lift their rifles to fire into the air.

I was honored to travel the full length of the parade route as grand marshal one drizzly Gaspee Day. I sat in a convertible and wore a hat in the shape of a beacon complete with flashing light that I made from cardboard – it survived the moisture. The best part of the experience was those who waved and raced up to say hello. It’s a parade of connections and community. What a way to celebrate the opening days of summer and, as Dave Stackhouse always made clear, a significant event in our history.

side up, parade


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