Thursday July 5, 2012
This year's Pittsfield Fourth of July Parade was a true classic, filled with stories that even Hollywood couldn't write.
Prior to the 10 a.m. step off, eyes bounced between C.L. "Fitz" Fitzpatrick's polished white 1929 Mercedes and the contents of the vehicle: Tony-nominated actor Brad Oscar and Dr. Ruth Westheimer, famed 84-year-old author, media personality and "sexpert," both toting American flags.
Fitzpatrick, who owns Wretched Mess Garage in Dalton, said this was the 53rd Fourth of July parade he's been in nationwide, and recalled an infamous time in Pittsfield on July 4, 1988, when one of the cars he was driving sputtered out. He grinned with nostalgia.
Asked what makes Fourth of July such a happy holiday for him, Fitzpatrick said, "It's the height of the summer. It's America's push. It's a big birthday for everyone."
Fortunately, Mother Nature sided with the patriots for the event, bringing intermittent sun and clouds, temperatures in the mid-80s, and gentle breezes.
"The weather held off and it was an excellent day for it," said parade coordinator Peter Marchetti.
As any member of the Pittsfield Parade Committee will tell you, hosting one of the city's biggest parties is no easy task.
"There's a lot of planning," said Jill Laraway, a member of the committee's board of directors. This year's marching list included 190 parade units, from balloon holders to banner carriers to bands of all kinds, among the lot.
Asked how many volunteers work on organizing the event, parade communications director and board member Ken Wheeler said, "Not enough."
This year marked Wheeler's 30th parade. He said that at any given time, there are 15 to 50 people who help make the event happen.
When asked what keeps him coming back to help, he said, "It's the community."
Authorities estimated that as many as 60,000 people attended.
A dressed down Gov. Deval Patrick was spotted in the crowd wearing a light red shirt and khaki pants and ball cap. He stopped to exchange smiles with the folks he met and shake the hands of police officers keeping watch over the route.
Businesses, from Hot Harry's Fresh Burritos on North Street to Paul's Restaurant on Seymour Street opened their doors to hungry or thirsty attendees, as did food vendors who set up shop on sidewalks.
For a couple of hours, at least, differences were set aside. Berkshire Conservatives dressed in Colonial garb carrying a Berkshire County Tea Party banner, walked the same path as immigrants waving flags from their home country. Laborers from the Local 473 union marched in neon yellow T-shirts and work boots, while many members of the United Cerebral Palsy unit rolled by in star-spangled wheelchairs.
Throughout the day in Berkshire County, people came together celebrating freedoms, lands and activities that they love, be it boating in Pontoosuc Lake, watching baseball and fireworks with the North Adams Steeplecats or Pittsfield Suns, or swaying to the sounds of James Taylor's third and final Tanglewood concert of the season.
Atop the grand-prize winning "Wizard of Oz"-theme Pittsfield Public Schools float, 11-year-old Alissa Rathbun's smile glowed as brightly as the yellow brick road she was standing by.
Prompted by a question about the holiday, she said, "I think people say ‘Happy Fourth of July' because when you're having fun, other people have fun."
To reach Jenn Smith:
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On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink
Pittsfield Fourth of July Parade Awards
Grand Prize: Most Outstanding Float -- Pittsfield Public Schools
Grand Marshall Award: Berkshire Conservatives
Mayor's Award: St. Mark's Parish
Best First-time Entry: Girl Scout Troop No. 40593
Best Veterans Entry: USS VI Bay State West Submarine
Best Commerical Float: Salvation Army
Best Music (two categories)
Non-Marching: First Place -- Whiskey City; Second Place -- Racing City Chorus; Third Place -- New Condon Mob Jazz Band
Marching: First Place -- St. Peter's Drum Corp, Torrington, Conn.; Second Place -- Marksmen Drum Corp, Springfield and Pittsfield; Third Place -- Moodus Drum and Fife, Moodus, Conn.
Best Fire Department: First Place -- Pittsfield; Second Place -- Lanesborough; Third Place -- Dalton
Antique Cars: First Place -- 1922 Star Touring Car, John Foster; Second Place -- 1956 T-Bird, Tom Renton; Third Place -- 1956 Chevy Nomad, Jim Chivers