LENOX --The annual recreation of the town's Gilded Age comes alive this weekend as the Lenox Tub Parade wends its way through the historic district. It's a fond, carefully crafted tribute to a bygone era that draws hundreds of residents and visitors.
The parade will be held at 1:30 p.m. Saturday along Kemble, Main, Church and Franklin streets, with Shakespeare & Company as the staging area for the drivers. Turnouts range from miniature horses, a prime attraction for youngsters, to draft horses and other varieties.
After the parade, the public can inspect the horses and carriages up close as the drivers compete in a timed obstacle course on the theater's nearby Kemble Street grounds.
The caravan of around 20 lavishly decorated horse-drawn carriages traces its origins to the mid-1880s Lenox Floral Parade, a quintessential high-society event showcasing women and children "cottagers" in their finery at the close of the "high season."
The tubs (a British expression for cart) were decorated with flowers and autumnal decorations from local gardens as participants competed for recognition, "a beautiful spectacle and the finest parade ever seen in the town," according to a detailed 1888 article in The New York Times.
After the demise of the Gilded Age, the parade faded away, only to be revived by the Colonial Carriage & Driving Society, a Stockbridge-based club dedicated to preserving the history and tradition of carriage driving.
This year's 22nd annual parade -- led by Grand Marshal George "Gige" Darey, a prominent advocate of land preservation -- is part of the What's Out There Weekend, organized by the Washington, D.C.-based Cultural Landscape Foundation to showcase 30 Berkshire County landmarks through expert-led tours.
"We love that people are exposed to the beauty and pageantry of horses today and the important roles they played in the past," said Kay Konove, a parade coordinator.
Konove noted that the original incarnation of the parade disappeared after World War I, when the imposition of income taxes spelled doom for the era of extravagant wealth and summer social seasons in South Berkshire, then known as the "inland Newport."
In 1990, members of the Colonial Carriage & Driving Society, working with the Lenox Chamber of Commerce, reinvented the Tub Parade in order to showcase impeccably groomed horses hitched to antique, restored or new vehicles, including the High Lawn Dairy Farm's milk wagon.
Mary Stokes Waller, of Stockbridge, drives the lead vehicle in recognition of her ancestors' participation in the original parades.
"Old Times," the final carriage, is driven by the society's president, Harvey Waller of Orleton Farm in Stockbridge. It's a public Road Coach built in England around 1866.
At the reviewing stand, Susan Treat's sculpture of a Victorian-era lady, handmade from chicken wire, will be on display. Her sheep carousel, also fashioned from chicken wire, has stood in front of Berkshire Bank on North Street for the past year.
Among the original participants of the reincarnated parade are Jeannette and Ralph Rotondo of Windy Knoll Farm in Lee.
"It's unusual to have a parade without any bands," said Jeannette Rotondo, 75. "That makes it nice." Her husband, 80, served as last year's grand marshal but no longer drives a carriage following a mild stroke.
She finds the parade special "because it recreates a time long gone by, and it's a chance to dress up in period costumes and put ourselves back in the era of the Gilded Age."
The couple, who continue to volunteer for the event, maintain their small farm with three horses, sheep and chickens. "We're still active," Rotondo emphasized, with some help from five daughters, nine grandsons and two granddaughters.
Parade Coordinator Maureen Gamelli, of Lee, explained that putting on the parade costs up to $3,000 a year. Carriage drivers pay a $25 registration fee; the town of Lenox contributed $1,500 this year, and some local merchants donate funds.
Gamelli, a native of Scotland who grew up at the old Foxhollow School for Girls on the grounds of The Mount, recalled that "Since I was 4, I've been on top of a horse."
Citing the cooperation of local police as downtown streets are closed to traffic during the half-hour parade, Gamelli emphasized that, for her, the greatest reward "is to hear the people applauding as they see the horses come down the street."
To contact Clarence Fanto:
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