“This is the best parade I’ve ever seen.”
An outburst of clapping became contagious as a fringe-topped survey pulled by a fast trotting bay horse with silky-long-flowing-mane-and-tail, and adorned in Christmas tassels and patriotic plume, rolled onto Massachusetts Avenue, packed with spectators, semblance of football stadiums later in the day.
“Merry Christmas” must have been gaily and appreciatively expressed what seemed a million times or more, back and forth from both participants, and those in the crowd, everyone seemingly in pleasantry of the season.
“Thank you for coming” was repeated in nearly equal numbers from those so proud of their horse entries, and the ones gleefully watching from sidelines.
It was the 20th annual Lawrence Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade.
“Everybody loves a parade. Everybody loves Christmas. Everybody loves horses. Everybody loves to dream about the good old days,” evaluated one kindly gentleman from his lawn chair as he sipped a steaming cup of hot chocolate.
Consequently, more than nearly 10,000 men, women and children of all ages were crowded together, often more than a dozen deep, to watch the parade, as hundreds more had viewed entries as they wound around backside streets from the Douglas County Fairgrounds to the main parade route.
“This is the biggest non-motorized Christmas parade in the Midwest,” claimed Elaine VanDeventer, director of the Lawrence Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade LLC. “We had 113 entries, and we estimated more than 300 horses from five states participated this year.”
Started 20 years ago by Rob Phillips, the spectacular event has increased in popularity, but with funding a major concern, fate stepped in and provided a necessary partner for the parade.
The Lawrence branch of Wells Fargo Advisors, a subsidiary of Wells Fargo & Company founded in 1852, became the corporate sponsor in 2009.
“A better company to join in a celebration of our heritage could not have been found, and the official Wells Fargo Stagecoach participated in the parade again this year,” VanDeventer said.
“This great event is only possible through very generous support,” VanDeventer emphasized.
There were an additional dozen donors listed as “Contributors,” and another 56 businesses, groups and individuals were recognized as “Sponsors.”
While the more than mile-long parade lasts about an hour, it’s actually a year-long venture with coordination for next year’s event starting soon after this one ended.
“A liability company was formed to better structure the financial and working relationships within the parade,” Marty Kennedy, president of the group, explained.
“It takes lots of cooperation from many people and groups to make it happen. There are literally dozens of volunteers who work with us on the parade,” Kennedy continued.
Although weather is always an unpredictable factor, parade-watchers began gathering several hours before starting time to settle in, bringing blankets, chairs and one who appeared to be a happy grandma was in her favorite recliner.
“We truly had horses of all shapes and sizes here,” Kennedy noted. “Many of the rigs are restored antiques, and there are also reproductions of the originals.
“We had buckboards, carriages, stagecoaches, surreys, a doctor’s buggy, carts of all sizes, you name it,” he added.
One highlight entry was the green freight wagon pulled by a four-horse Percheron team from the McCrossan Boys Ranch, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, as the boys neatly clad in matching green jackets walked along, heading the horses as needed.
Allen Prell, Oketo, has served as an out rider for the parade since its beginning and was honored as grand marshal this year.
Most of the participants arrived on Friday evening, put their horses in stalls at the fairgrounds, and went to a barbecued beef supper provided by the sponsoring company.
A musical program was presented by “Bobby Ray,” before the horsemen settled in at area motels for complimentary lodging.
Breakfast wasn’t in bed, but everybody involved was up way before the sun shown. Horses were fed, groomed, decorated, saddled and harnessed to start lining up shortly after 9 o’clock
But, getting horses and vehicles decorated in the traditional holiday spirit and ready for the parade is no small feat.
Numerous participants claimed that they spent several hours preparing for the annual downtown-trot.
“It’s the enjoyment of it, and the people here,” one carriage driver said. “People like to see the horses, and they’re happy to see us as they wave their greeting. It’s the Christmas mood.”
The Saddle & Sirloin Riders from Kansas City accompanied their horse-drawn vehicle in the parade.
Again, the Commanding General’s Color Guard from Fort Riley was there, with the Nicodemus Buffalo Soldiers of Plainville, and the Wild Women of the Frontier, based out of Lawrence, also among the riding groups.
In what has become the parade tradition, Dunn’s Landing of Wellsville brought the parade to a climaxing end as Santa Claus waved from the stagecoach packed heavy with Christmas gifts.