While downtown’s Christmas Parade won’t happen this year, a stagecoach and a pair of horses will make sure it is not forgotten
photo by: John Young
If this Saturday you see a Wells Fargo stagecoach driving down Massachusetts Street, you really won’t need to start wondering what was in that eggnog you just drank. Your eyes won’t be playing tricks on you. It will just be a small bit of Christmas cheer on a day that usually has a huge amount of it in downtown Lawrence.
Saturday is the day that normally would bring 40,000 to 50,000 people to downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods to watch Lawrence’s Old-Fashioned Christmas Parade, which is one of the more unique Christmas parades in the entire country. All the entrants either are on horseback or are powered by horses.
But, as we’ve reported, the event has been canceled this year because of concerns about large crowds gathering during the pandemic.
Christmas spirit, though, is a tough thing to keep in the barn, evidently. Longtime parade organizer Marty Kennedy told me a single horse-drawn wagon would travel down Massachusetts Street at some point on Saturday. Robin Dunn, who owns the event business Dunn’s Landing in rural Wellsville, will be bringing her Wells Fargo stagecoach and a pair of horses to the downtown area to do what she has done for so many first Saturdays in December: go for a trot on Massachusetts Street.
“We’ll just call it our pop-up Christmas parade,” Kennedy said.
Actually, we probably shouldn’t call it that. Kennedy and Dunn aren’t trying to get a big crowd along a parade route, as that would kind of defeat the reason the parade had to be canceled in the first place. Thus, they aren’t getting real specific about when the stagecoach is going to make its short trip. Really, the organizers just want to remind people that the parade hasn’t disappeared forever.
Kennedy said the plan was absolutely to have a parade on the first Saturday of December 2021.
“We have been keeping in communication with all the people who were entered in the parade for this year to make sure they know they still will have an entry in the parade next year,” Kennedy said.
The next parade will be the 27th. In 1993, Rob Phillips — the then owner of The Eldridge Hotel and a big-time lover of horses — decided to drive a Christmas-decorated wagon down Massachusetts Street on the first Saturday of December. Two other groups joined him, and there were six wagons total.
The tradition has grown from there and so has the event. The organizers of the event buy more than 100 hotel rooms just for the participants in the parade, and the group estimates that about 400 hotel rooms are filled by spectators coming from various parts of the country. When news of the cancellation of this year’s parade started to circulate, organizers got calls from people who had planned to visit from Chicago, Washington, D.C., Florida, Wisconsin and several other faraway locales.
At times, though, the event’s future has been in question. Sponsorship dollars for the parade have ebbed and flowed, and changes in how often an event can receive a city grant also have played a role in some tight times for the parade, which is run by a local nonprofit corporation.
But Kennedy — who along with his wife, Patty, have been part of the organizing group for more than 20 years — expressed confidence that the parade will be back and strong next year. He thinks not having a parade this year will remind folks how much they have missed it.
“It definitely has been a different November for us,” Kennedy said, referring to the significant amount of work done in the weeks leading up to the event. “We haven’t been nearly as busy or tired, but it has been awful difficult to not have a parade.”
In other news and notes from around town:
While you might need some patience to wait for a parade, you should never have to wait for a pizza. At least that was one of the ideas behind the chain Pie Five, which opened on south Iowa Street in 2016. It’s selling point was that it would make fresh pizza in five minutes.
Despite that, time has run out for the chain in Lawrence. A sign on the front door of the restaurant at 2500 Iowa St. says the store has “closed its doors and turned off the oven.”
No word yet on what, if anything, may go into the space, which is just north of the shopping center that includes Applebee’s, First Watch and several other restaurants.