Baltimore City

A Columbus Day tradition in Little Italy lives on

As a brisk wind blew down South President Street Sunday afternoon, 85-year-old Mary Sudano stood against a light pole leaning on a cane, a string of red, white and green beads around her neck.

The Little Italy native and lifelong South High Street resident smiled and waved as four men dressed as gladiators marched past, holding a Roma Gourmet Sausage banner and flanking a fifth man dressed as National Bohemian Beer's iconic Mr. Boh character.

"It's a good thing that they keep it up," Sudano said of Baltimore's annual Columbus Day parade, which at 122 years old is pitched as the longest continually running Columbus parade in the country. "After all, it's a tradition for the Italians. We've got to keep it up. That's what makes the world go round, hon!"

Crowds at the annual event in honor of Italy's own Christopher Columbus were thinned by predictions of rain, the overcast skies and other Baltimore events, including the Ravens game, organizers said. In some ways, it mirrored smaller celebrations in years past, as in 2010, when the parade was thinned to a procession from St. Leo's Roman Catholic Church to Columbus Piazza.

Still, marching bands from the U.S. Naval Academy and regional high schools, organizations representing Italian and Hispanic immigrant populations, and a number of other civic groups turned out to march from Key Highway along Light and Pratt streets to the piazza on South President Street.

Earlier in the morning, Gov. Martin O'Malley and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake joined Antonio Izzo, the mayor of the Italian city of Montesarchio, for a laying of wreaths at the park's statue of Columbus — which was dedicated as a gift from Baltimore's Italian residents on Oct. 8, 1984, by Mayor William Donald Schaefer and President Ronald Reagan.

Those at the parade, including Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, waved as Italian civic groups and Mexican folk dancers passed and children waved flags from a host of Latin American countries.

"It's great to get a little bit of the Latino flavor today, and to see it join with the Italian flavor," said Maritza Reyes, a Florida resident whose family is from Nicaragua and who was in Baltimore for a conference.

Alfredo Massa, chair of the event, said a main goal of organizers is to instill cultural pride in the next generation of Baltimoreans, regardless of what culture that is.

"We need to pass the torch to the younger generation," Massa said.

Justin Pecora, who grew up in Little Italy and now lives in Carney, was doing just that with his son, Ezio, 4, and daughter Luna, 3, he said.

"I want to keep it alive," said Pecora, who works under his father, Al Pecora, at Baltimore's Roma Gourmet Sausages. "My whole family came every year. I grew up coming to the parade."

Francesco Legaluppi, the consul general of Italy stationed in Baltimore, said the parade went well, with those in attendance reflecting its deep roots in Baltimore.

"There was a lot of orange and black and purple along with the red, white and green," Legaluppi said, of the Orioles', Ravens' and Italian colors mixing together. "It was a wonderful representation."