THE LONG MARCH
|By Lawrence Cosentino|
Lansing’s sesquicentennial parade forms up with its forerunnersOn May 16, 2009, a three-and-a-halfhour Parade of the Decades will mark Lansing’s 150th birthday.
It’s a timely trick of the odometer. The city’s mood is just right for back-looking. Right now, the other direction is looking a little scary. After 50 years of brushwhacking a capital out of primeval forest and a century of building cars, what comes next for Lansing?
Nobody knows, but we do know where we’ve been.
Despite uncertain times for Lansing, one comfort we can take from the photos on these pages is that nostalgia is not unique to our era. A hundred years ago, people were already looking back fondly on the past.
On “Pioneer Day” circa 1913, citizens trotted out a symbolic log cabin and rolled it down the city’s newfangled brick roads.
On many afternoons in Lansing’s 150 years, parades have opened a fleeting toll road through time.
At the city’s 1959 centennial, men in thick-rimmed glasses and women in beehive hairdos tooled down Michigan Avenue, twirling parasols, stepping back into the early automobile days.
But the photos on these pages also show that through the years, parades have been a lot more than quaint exercises in nostalgia.
This isn’t New York or Chicago. Lansing never got to throw ticker-tape at General Grant or swoon over the Apollo astronauts.
But we did have parades for Commodore George Dewey and President Theodore Roosevelt — heroes of one of America’s more dubious military adventures, the Spanish-American War.
Lansing’s status as the capital city adds another dimension to its parades.
Political activists, labor union members and civil rights advocates have all marched the streets of the capital.
And then there is the KKK. It may surprise peo ple who enjoy flowery floats and shiny tubas when that one of Lansing’s darkest days was a gala parade: the infamous 1924 Klonvocation of 15,000 Michigan Klan members and 50,000 spectators.
But leave it to the MSU men’s basketball team to really draw a crowd. After the men’s team won it all in 1979 and 2000, Lansing parade guru Duane Vernon (cochairman of the Parade of the Decades) and volunteers helped organize victory parades, the former going from East Lansing to the Capitol, and the latter in the opposite direction. Vernon said the 2000 parade drew about 400,000, a record for any such event outside Detroit.
After about a dozen successful runs, you pick up a few things, and Vernon, 77, said there are five things people like to see in a parade. In no particular order, they are: bands, military, clowns, animals (i.e., horses) and, of course, fire trucks. Now that you’ve got your scorecard, let’s take a look at how we’ve done over the years.
(Eric Gallippo contributed to this story)
Parade of the Decades