Rain trims parade crowd
Views are good in Columbus Day march held under cloudy skies
WEST HAVEN — The rain stopped in time, but ever-threatening skies reduced attendance markedly for the annual Greater New Haven Columbus Day parade Sunday.
Leaders of the parade committee kept looking upward nervously as they gathered at the reviewing stand opposite the West Haven Green around noon, an hour before the parade ‘s scheduled start on Captain Thomas Boulevard.
“Usually we get a very large crowd,” said Vinnie Amendola Jr., the parade’s master of ceremonies. “In good weather we draw 3,000 to 4,000 people.”
But only a few hundred people at most appeared to be in or around the Green as the marchers approached. The good news was that spectators on the sidewalks along Campbell Avenue had a good view of the parade’s 80 marching units and 25 bands.
West Haven had last hosted this parade in 2011. The rotating event also includes participants from New Haven, North Haven, East Haven, Hamden and Branford.
Mike Walsh, a parade committee member, said organizers decided to go ahead with the event because forecasts called for the morning rain to stop and “There was no threat of lightning.”
A few hardy spectators had set up folding chairs around 12:30 p.m. at the intersection of Campbell Avenue and Main Street by the Green.
Tammy and David Welch were there, waiting to see their 8-year-old daughter, Emma, come by with the Mulkerin Dance Group.
They said they weren’t worried about the possibility of the rain returning. They had brought an umbrella with them just in case. David Welch said, “It’s only water.”
The Welches said Emma was quite excited to be in the parade, her first for Columbus Day. Her dad said, “She couldn’t pass up a chance to do an Irish dance.”
Several vendors were moving around, pulling their carts filled with American flags, inflatable pigs, Spiderman figures, plastic swords and toy guns. A man whose shirt read “Greg the Painter” bought items off the carts for any kid who asked for something. He didn’t want his full name used in this story.
One of the vendors, who also declined to be named, said that because of the poor weather, “I’ll be lucky if I make back the permit money.” He said that permit cost $50.
“I’ll just bring in what I can, that’s it,” he said. “That’s the nature of the business. Sometimes it rains.”
Bill Zampa, the parade committee’s vice president, thanked West Haven Mayor Ed O’Brien as well as the police, fire and public service departments for working to host the parade.
Zampa was asked about one of the rules posted on the parade committee’s website: “The presence of placards, banners or other devices, including pamphlets intended to spread propaganda, political views or to embarrass any group or unit of marchers are prohibited. Placards and banners will be limited to those designating a unit or organization.”
When asked if that rule infringes on the First Amendment right to free speech, Zampa said, “We allow political organizations or participants, providing there is no literature. Of course there is always free speech. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion.”
Columbus Day celebrations have become controversial in recent years in some areas as some people have cited Columbus’ treatment of Native Americans. In New York City, political leaders are discussing whether statues of Columbus should be removed. But there were no protesters visible in West Haven Sunday, at least not near the Green.
Zampa said of Columbus, “He brought Christianity to America. This day is an opportunity to honor those of Italian descent who participate annually in this occasion.”
The parade was led by the Governor’s Foot Guard, followed closely by O’Brien, waving an Italian flag. He greeted a group of men gathered in front of Johnny’s Grille a couple of blocks from the Green.
The parade units also included members of the St. Maria Maddalena Society and the Saint Catello Society, who threw candy to kids in the crowd.
Jillian Kristie’s 3-year-old son, Brandon Rylski, was personally handed some candy. Brandon, who wore a “Ask Me About T-Rex” shirt, stared at the bands and uniforms in utter fascination.
“This is his first Columbus Day parade,” Kristie said. “I’m glad they still did it (despite the gloomy weather). I just wish there were more people.”
Paul Frosolone, president of the West Haven Italian American Club, carries the Italian flag up Campbell Avenue during the Greater New Haven Columbus Day Parade in West Haven on Sunday.
Gary Jenkins and his life partner, Carol Firine — along with a skeleton carrying the Italian flag — watch the Greater New Haven Columbus Day Parade pass in front of their house on Campbell Avenue in West Haven on Sunday.
Maria Wilson, of Milford, watches the Greater New Haven Columbus Day Parade on Sunday. Dressed in the colors of the Italian flag, she says, “I’m proud to be an Italian. I had to come to celebrate my heritage.”