The way the throng cheered, waved and snapped a thousand pictures as baseball Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio rolled by on a red, white and blue float, you might have thought yesterday's parade in Baltimore was a tribute to The Legend himself.
But his presence was just part of the city's colorful and diverse tribute to the 500th anniversary of the discovery of The New World, the Columbus Day Parade. Still, there was no question which Italian had drawn the crowds.
Among the admirers who thronged the Inner Harbor for the parade and a glimpse of Joltin' Joe was Rhett Myers, 7.
The Bowleys Quarters boy wanted Joltin' Joe -- the only man to hit in 56 consecutive major-league games -- to autograph his baseball glove.
With the help of his father, Joe Myers, the sandy-haired youth had a perch right next to the parade float Mr. DiMaggio would ride. Of course, a lot of other folks had the same thing in mind.
And so, when the baseball star approached to board the float, young Rhett was swept up in a swirl of giants clamoring for The Legend's autograph and snapshot.
Sign he did, everything from one- and five-dollar bills to sheets of paper and old photographs of himself, dressed in the New York Yankees uniform he wore from 1936 to 1951.
Because of a business contract, Mr. DiMaggio can't sign baseball balls or gloves, so he couldn't reply to Rhett's plea for a signed mitt. But when his dad handed a $20 bill up to the Hall of Famer, Mr. DiMaggio signed it with a smile.
"It's pretty cool," said Rhett admiring the prize.
William Huber, 72, of Baltimore, handed Mr. DiMaggio a white paper bag, holding candles he'd just bought. The former star signed.
"He made me feel important," said Mr. Huber, beaming.
Mr. DiMaggio's presence in the parade was no less a dream come true for Thomas D'Alesandro III, Baltimore mayor from 1967 to 1971.
As one of the annual event's chairmen, Mr. D'Alesandro said, he began trying to line up Mr. DiMaggio, a longtime family friend, for the Baltimore parade a year ago as a way of highlights contributions Italian-Americans have made to the U.S.
An estimated 4,000 spectators jammed the parade route along Key Highway, Pratt Street in the Inner Harbor and in Little Italy, where the viewing stand was.
The parade included such notables as Gov. William Donald Schaefer (he didn't ask for an autograph) and Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
Numerous brass marching bands from Baltimore to Michigan played, among them the Perry Hall High School Band, which snared first place from the National Judges Association in the high school marching band division.
About 4,000 people marched, from more than 100 mounted police units from around the nation to small ensembles of dancers and bands adorned in native clothing of South America.
A float by the Spanish Club of Washington, D.C., which depicted Columbus visiting Queen Isabella's court, captured the top float prize.
Not everyone attending the parade was bullish on the parade theme.
About 25 people from the Baltimore Emergency Response Network, a group of peace activists, protested that the parade honored a man who they contend was a racist responsible for the deaths of thousands of Indians.
The protesters -- some with their faces covered with handkerchiefs and ski masks -- marched up and down Pratt Street, chanting and carrying posters.
Neither the protesters nor rain showers marred the event for Toni Favazza, a Timonium resident and young mother.
"The thing I love about this parade is its rich ethnic feel. It's not just Italians in the parade," she said as a float passed by with an Irish band playing a jig. "This is what Columbus Day is all about -- the American melting pot."