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Sue Bush
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Fall Foliage 50th: Parade, Community Marches On

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Wednesday, August 17, 2005

North Adams Mayor John Barrett III spoke during an Aug. 17 Fall Foliage Parade 50th anniversary media conference.
North Adams- The annual Fall Foliage Parade’s Oct. 2 50th anniversary march will acknowledge much more than a half-century of marching bands and high-kicking cheerleaders.

“This is a very special parade,” said Mayor John Barrett III during an Aug. 17 morning conference at City Hall. "We certainly are a much different community than 50 years ago."

Getting Better with Age

The parade, like the city, has experienced high and low moments, and at one point during the mid 1980s, there was talk of eliminating the event, Barrett said. But community support rallied ‘round the parade, and the event continues to cap a week of Fall Foliage Festival events, Barrett said.

“It reminds of that line ‘it gets better with age,’” Barrett said. “This gets better with age.”

The “Golden Jubilee” parade will commemorate the spirit of the city that launched and perpetuated the parade almost every year.

Encore for Parade Grand Marshals

And to that end, all living past parade Grand Marshals are invited to lead this year’s parade. Past Grand Marshals are scattered throughout the country and some have already agreed to take another turn at the head of the parade, said Paul Renaud, the chairman of the Fall Foliage Festival Committee.

“They are excited and honored,” Renaud said during a morning press conference at City Hall.

Grand Marshals were introduced during the 1959 “Spirit of Progress” parade; former U.S. Congressman Silvio O. Conte was the first to be honored as grand marshal of the parade. John R. Leu served as grand marshal during a 1980 “Silver Jubilee” parade. In 1960, Robert Sprague led a “Happy Birthday to the Beautiful Berkshires” parade, in 1973 James and Richard Hunter led an “Our Berkshire Heritage March,” and in 1976, a “Famous Americans-Fact or Fiction” parade was led by Frances Buckley.

Artist Danny O created a parade 50th anniversary brochure cover.
In 2004, veteran WNAW-WMNB news reporter Ron Plock led a “Just Having Fun” march, and in 2002, World War II veteran Anthony Sacco led a “Hometown Heroes” parade. Political leaders followed Conte as parade grand marshals; former state Gov. Jane Swift, Sen. Peter Webber, and city Mayor Richard Lamb all led a parade, and Mayor John Barrett III was selected as Grand Marshall in 1987 – the year that a freak snowstorm struck on parade day and forced the one and only parade cancellation.

Barrett subsequently led the parade in 1988.

Clydesdales To March

The Anheuser-Busch Budweiser Clydesdale horses are set for a return to the city and the parade, said Thomas Leveque, manager for Girardi Distributors of Pittsfield.

The large, impressive horses will be housed at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, said Leveque, who stressed that MASS MoCA Director Joseph C. Thompson offered much assistance with bringing the horses to the city. Current plans are to stable 10 horses in a 60’ x 100’ tent. Security measures will be in place, and a team of veterinarians will accompany the horses. The tent will contain portable stables, Leveque said.

The parade day "hitch" will feature eight horses, Leveque said.

The public will be able to visit the horses during their museum stay, Leveque said, and recalled the visitor volume in 1999, when the Clydesdales came to the city and were stabled at the Joe Wolfe Field on State Street.

“We think that about 15,000 people came in 1999,” he said, and added that the MoCA venue is likely to draw an increased number of visitors.

And Leveque offered a tantalizing “tease.”

“There will be a special [and as of yet unidentified] guest coming,” Leveque said. “To see the special guest, people will have to come to MASS MoCA.”

Leveque said that he believes that people will be pleased with the “guest.”

Danny O Art

A special 32-page parade brochure has been designed and features a cover created by city-based artist Daniel “Danny O” O’Connor. “Danny O”’s unique collage-style art is much appreciated and sought after; the 50th anniversary parade brochure cover was designed with the city and the event as a focus, O’Connor said.

The cover art depicts a baton-carrying parade majorette backed by city landmarks such as the Hadley Overpass and tall steeples. The colors are muted and appear “aged.”

O’Connor used a tape-on-comic-book technique to create the image, he said. Everyday cellophane tape was used to “lift” colored ink from old comic book pages; the ink was then transferred as individual shots of color and as overlapped blends to shape the cover illustrations.

Danny O Art graces the 50th Anniversary Fall Foliage Festival Parade Golden Jubilee Cover.

“I like it,” O’Connor said. “I worked on it for quite a while. I wanted it to have a vintage look, an aged watercolor effect. I wanted it to have a feel of Americana.”

The specially-created brochure will be available to those who make a $25 contribution to the 2005 Fall Foliage Festival Parade.

Barrett made a personal appeal to all residents of the region for $25 donations. The parade has commitments from 19 bands and Barrett would like to add at least one more band to the line-up. A minimum of 250 people willing to contribute the funds are necessary to bring on another band, Barrett said.

A city $10,000 parade contribution came from hotel/motel tax revenues, Barrett said.

Donations may be made at the Mayor’s of Tourism, 6 West Main St., North Adams, MA 01247. Checks should be made payable to the Fall Foliage Festival.

Savor Local Flavor

State Rep. Daniel E. Bosley D-North Adams spoke about the significance of the parade. Bosley noted that the region is changing economically and the change has come about because of an effort to bring new jobs to the area.

“But we don’t want to lose the flavor of the area we grew up in,” he said.

Bosley also jokingly announced that he had already determined his parade position.

“I’ll be following the Budweiser wagon,” he said

Marching On

Speaking after the press conference, Barrett said that he attended the first parade in 1955. As the parade evolved, some sentimental favorite features were diminished while other parade highlights have emerged.

“There is one thing I do miss,” Barrett said. “We used to have a lot more floats in the old days. The local businesses, the big business, they all did floats. The schools did floats, the fire departments did floats.”

As the conversation eased along the parade routes of memory, the talk turned to the past floats, float construction, and the efforts required.

“Yes, yes, the chicken wire and the glue and the Kleenex,” Barrett said. “Yes, I remember all that. I remember working in my father’s restaurant [located at what is now the K-Mart building site] and we would sell a lot of food by parade time. It was just about the best day of the year.”

“The men would come to the parade dressed up, the women were dressed up and families came together,” Barrett said, and noted that photographs of past parades capture family and community moments. “I remember when [former United States President] John [F.] Kennedy walked the route in 1958 as a senator. Sen. Ted Kennedy has marched the parade. And Silvio Conte was very popular.”

The parade launched as a “Fall Foliage Festival of Music.” Wedged into the parade’s half-century of Main Street marching are the over two decades of Barrett’s mayoral service. The early years of Barrett’s Corner Office tenancy were marked by economic hits such as the Sprague Electric Co. announcement that massive lay-offs were ahead.

His parade perspective closely mirrors his pride in the city, he said.

“The first two years I was in the parade as mayor, the people were there but they weren’t vibrant,” he said. “The down years of the parade reflected the down years of the city.”

But much of the city’s population faced the adversity with a “down but not out” attitude, and as the city’s economy improved, so has the passion associated with the parade.

“Over the past 10 years, the crowds are reinvigorated,” Barrett said. “More people are coming down to watch the parade, more people come back to the area for the parade, and there are more tailgate parties. We’ve survived some setbacks. The parade has gone on through driving rain, through cold, through snow flurries, through some extreme heat. Some years we miss the peak [of fall foliage color] and some years we hit it right on. We’ve seen it all, and the parade goes on.”

Keeping It All In Step

Renaud cited the dedicated efforts of past and present Fall Foliage parade volunteers. The parade is sponsored by the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.

Fall Foliage Parade Committee Chairman Paul Renaud

In recent years, Mayor’s Office of Tourism Director Rod Bunt has overseen festival events, and has worked with Kathy Keeser of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition to organize a Children’s Parade. Bunt also teams up with Western Gateway Heritage State Park Supervisor Dale Waterman for a festival Children’s Fair. Every facet of the parade and the festival require hours of work from dozens of people.

“We get to 50 years of parade and it’s all possible because of the hard work of committee members,” he said.

Additional information about the Fall Foliage Festival Parade is available at a web site.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at or at 802-823-9367.
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