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Catonsville chairs a tradition with unknown origins

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Metal chairs. Plastic chairs. Big chairs. Little chairs. Lawn chairs. Table chairs. Even reclining armchairs.

Since as early as June 17, they have become part of the scenery along Frederick Road, between Locust Drive and Montrose Avenue, in Catonsville.

They are a unique Catonsville signal that the town's annual summer celebration is not too far away.

The chairs line Catonsville's main thoroughfare, some tied together, some spray painted and some sporting a stuffed animal or dummy occupant.

They all serve to stake out prime real estate for watching Catonsville's famed Fourth of July parade, part of a mysterious tradition dating back as far as the 1960s.

"I think people want to get a good seat so they can see the fantastic parade and fireworks," said Ellicott City resident Tom Connor, who has served on the Catonsville Celebrations Committee for more than 40 years.

"I guess it's almost like a contest of who gets their chairs there first," said Connor, the parade's grand marshal in 2008. "Everybody looks forward to it every year."

Connor said he can't remember the first year he saw chairs being put out on the Frederick Road sidewalk in preparation to reserve a spot to watch the parade.

But, he said, it is an exercise that has been going on for decades and continues to get bigger and sillier every year as the crowds that turn out to watch the late afternoon event increase in size.

"I can remember them from back in the 60s," he said. "People would put their chairs around the Baptist church, I remember that, and also near the Knights of Columbus (hall on Frederick Road next the Catonsville Library)."

Peter Turney has lived in his home on Frederick Road across the street from Hillcrest Elementary School for about 30 years, he said, and the chairs have been popping up in front of his home for as long as he can remember.

"They were here when I came," Turney said. "I can understand why people would want to pick a spot."

Turney said he is lucky because his driveway is wide enough to create an "apron" where people do not place their chairs. That allows him time to delay setting up his seating arrangements until just before the parade's scheduled 3 p.m. start.

"When I hear a nice band, I'll come out," he said.

Though the chairs border the front of his yard, Turney said the growing chair craze doesn't bother him.

"It's probably gotten more and more (in advance) as time goes on," he said. "I think people start a little early, but then again, if they didn't, they wouldn't get a spot."

This year, the Catonsville branch of the Baltimore County Public Library on Frederick Road posted a sign asking people to not place their "chairs, blankets, etc." on library property until after close of business on Wednesday and remove them before the popular library re-opens on Friday morning.

"No chairs are allowed on library property while the library is functional," said BCPL spokesman Bob Hughes. "Because we have people who are walking over the lawn, we have people who are in wheelchairs, we have people who are on crutches and we just can't risk the problems that could occur."

However, once the library closes at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Hughes said the library property — located at a perfect spot in the 1100 block of Frederick Road almost halfway along the parade route — becomes fair game for chair fanatics.

"On the Fourth of July, the library is closed and people can do as they wish," he said. "We're going to be very involved (in the parade) and we're looking forward to it."

DyAnn Moree, a director of the Catonsville Celebrations Committee, said she loves the way the chairs have become a symbol in the area of the devotion to, and pride in, the local parade..

"That's how our T-shirts got formed, because of that," she said referring to the committee fundraiser that features a row of lawn chairs and the word "Catonsville" written across the front.

"I think it's just a joke in Catonsville," she said. "It's just fun, it shows the enthusiasm, it shows the excitement."

And the chairs, which started to turn up more than two weeks prior to the Fourth this year, remain in place until the parade no matter what, she said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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