Enjoying Easter parade weather, tourists and Baltimoreans lined Pratt Street yesterday, swaying their hips and clapping their hands for the annual pilgrimage of dancers and marching bands that signals Thanksgiving is coming.
The parade has become a Baltimore tradition like the Preakness or Opening Day at Camden Yards, with groups as diverse as a Harley motorcycle club and a Brownie troop participating.
"What I like is the people on the sidelines who think we're the entertainment when they are really the ones who are fun to watch," said Katie Fox, 20, a dancer with the Kevin Broesler School of Irish Dance.
From infants to grandparents, crowds lined the sidewalk from Oriole Park at Camden Yards to the Inner Harbor to catch a glimpse of the festivities, which includes the city's first official appearance of Santa Claus.
"We were spending the weekend in Baltimore and just lucked out with the parade," said Tom Huntzinger of Stewartstown, Pa., whose 6-year-old son, 9-year-old daughter and wife stopped to watch the parade in the midst of touring the city.
Katie Better and her mother, Trish Better, came from Poolesville in Montgomery County to spend the day in Baltimore for Katie's 17th birthday. "I'm absolutely loving this," Katie said. "I'm from a small town with one main street. I love the city - the diversity. The drum lines and dancers are great. I'm used to parades where everyone is wearing the same uniform."
Chris Gray, a 19-year-old Port Discovery employee from West Baltimore, was wearing a lizard costume as part of the parade festivities. Brownie Troop 2781 and Junior Girl Scout Troop 5216 - both from Parkville - had made their elf outfits for the parade. And the Black Rose cheerleaders and twirlers from Hanover were decked out in glittery leotards and tights.
The Baltimore Metro Chapter of Harley Owners Group wore jeans and leather. The loud rumblings of the motorcycles caught the attention of the crowd. "We get a lot of oohs and aahs, especially from the kids," said HOG assistant director Mark Prybylski.
The temperature had risen to nearly 65 degrees by 1 p.m. as the parade was finishing, making it ideal for family outings. National Weather Service forecasters were predicting the warm snap to last through tomorrow - and then were calling for a return to more seasonal weather by Thanksgiving.
The city's enthusiasm for the Thanksgiving parade, sponsored by the city's Office of Promotion and the Arts, draws marching bands as far as the Eastern Shore and square dancers from all over the state.
"Most people want to see our skirts twirling. It's funny," said Norva Pope, 75, co-president of the Mason Dixon Square Dance Federation. "We're trying to get everyone involved. It's a wonderful physical and mental activity. We have dancers from 8 years old to 80-plus."
Yvonne Ferrell's children - ages 5 and 3 - were up at 6 a.m., ready to make their way from their Woodlawn home to Baltimore for the parade that started at 11 a.m. "They've been looking forward to it," she said. "They like the bands."
Local favorites included the Stephen Decatur High School marching band from Berlin, the Randallstown High School marching band and the city's own Frederick Douglass High School marching band, which played "Feliz Navidad" and "Swinging Jingle."
Maryland Public Television's Bob Heck, better known as the "Bob the Vid Tech," host of the Saturday morning cartoons, was also quickly recognized.
The grand marshal of the parade, Heck summarized the event for a lot of people. "It's great fun," he said. "This is one of the things we have to be thankful for. There's no commercialism to it. That's what I love about Thanksgiving, too. It's about friends, family, turkey, football and parades."