Does size really matter?
First Posted: 3/3/2015
For a region known to have many heavy drinkers, March, unarguably, marks the most wonderful time of the year in Northeastern Pennsylvania: Parade Day!
Annual St. Patrick’s parade celebrations in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre bring thousands of spectators to their downtowns; boosting the local economy, celebrating culture and illuminating the party-monster in all of us.
No matter which parade you choose to attend, everyone there seems to be happy. Kids get candy. The green shirt hanging in the back of your closet is finally useful. And the party is so turnt up that green-beer goggles help gingers get laid.
When it comes down to it, though, Scranton hosts a notoriously larger St. Patrick’s Day celebration than Wilkes-Barre. In 2014, Scranton’s parade welcomed roughly 125,000 spectators, according to the St. Patrick’s Parade Association of Lackawanna County. Liza Prokop, Community Relations Coordinator for the city of Wilkes-Barre (and parade coordinator) said the Luzerne County celebration attracted between 20,000 to 25,000.
Does size matter when it comes to a culturally traditional affair such as Parade Day? Or, is it all about the motion of the ocean?
We spoke with parade organizers and enthusiastic attendees to find out which parade is bigger and better.
Scranton: Since 1962 vs. Wilkes-Barre: Since 1981
Dave Clark of Scranton marched in the inaugural St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Scranton in 1962.
“It was put together by the Knights of Columbus. I marched with the Columbian Squires, which was the junior Knights of Columbus. To be honest, I was embarrassed to be center of attention at that age. I was maybe 12 or 13. I remember the feeling of downtown Scranton was a feeling unlike any other. Everybody seemed happy. There was a certain excitement that was brought to Scranton. Fifty years later, there’s still that excitement,” Clark said.
Now the executive director of the St. Patrick’s Parade Association of Lackawanna County, Clark said. There wasn’t a parade association until 1966, when it began to grow.
“We’re the fourth largest parade in the nation based on population. It’s a special time. I remember it always being such a special day as a kid. I still feel that way now,” said parade association president Gene Hallinan.
Wilkes-Barre may not have launched their parade until 1981, but Christine White of Wilkes-Barre considers the parade a long-standing tradition for her family.
“I took my two sons to the first parade in the early ’80s. Now I take my granddaughters. It’s not as big as the Scranton parade, but it’s special for people in Wilkes-Barre. It’s our town celebrating heritage. It brings our community together. That sort of tradition is becoming lost today. I look forward to the day I can take my great-grandchildren to the parade, God willing,” White said.
Scranton: 90 vs. Wilkes-Barre: 15
For the second year in a row, Prokop is in charge of coordinating the Wilkes-Barre St. Patrick’s Parade. Most of the responsibility is placed on her, but she does have help from about 15 other people employed by the city, including Mayor Tom Leighton.
“We also get community volunteers, if needed,” Prokop said.
Scranton has 90 organizers split up among 39 different committees.
“We have an operations committee who actually takes the applications and builds the parade from those applications. That’s the largest community of about 30 to 35 people. There’s a committee just for military bands. There’s a committee for bagpipe bands,” Clark said.
Scranton: 58 vs. Wilkes-Barre: About 30
One of the reasons Scranton’s parade finds continued success is because it is not municipally funded, Clark said.
“We take the politics out of it. We are lucky enough to have great sponsors support our parade each year,” he said.
Sponsors donate as little as $150 and as much as $7,500 toward the nearly six-figure cost to assemble the annual Scranton parade, which Clark estimates to be more than $80,000.
Hallinan said 58 sponsors are helping this year’s event come together.
Prokop said there are about 30 sponors for this year for the St. Patrick’s Parade.
“For 2014, the parade sponsorship revenue was $22,070 and the expenses were $24,037. It’s too early to run the numbres for 2015, but I anticipate it will be comparable to last year,” Prokop said in an email.
Scranton: 12,000 vs. Wilkes-Barre: About 150
Scranton may whip Wilkes-Barre’s ass in the amount of people who march in the parade (Scranton has 12 bagpipers and 11 marching bands while Wilkes-Barre has seven bagpipers and two marching bands), but the level of enthusiasm to participate appears fairly comparable.
John Maday, president of the Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Association, said the business association is proud to be in the parade once again.
“We have Three Imaginary Boys on our float. They’re not an Irish band. They’re a rock band. They’re great,” Maday said.
“The Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Assocation tries to be downtown at any event we can, and we love being in the parade. Not only does the parade attract people to our downtown businesses, which is good for the economy, but it’s also great from a social standpoint,” Maday said. Wilkes-Barre has a diverse population. There are so many different people from different neighborhoods in Wilkes-Barre, and it is really fantastic — it’s grand — to see all the diverse faces on the sidewalks watching the parade. It really is an indicator that Wilkes-Barre represents the melting pot of this country.”
Jack McIntyre is president of the Irish Cultural Society of Scranton, a group that has had a float featured in the Scranton St. Patrick’s Parade since 1978.
“This year our theme is coal miners. We are building a small coal mine with a railroad car and have little Irish kids dressed in old garments as the miners, just as it was in the 19th century,” McIntyre said.
McIntyre said the cultural significance to his heritage compels him to participate every year.
“The parade is a great show of the Irish people and tradition. Everything that the Irish have gone through over the years, it shows you what we are. While the Civil War was going on, at least 100,000 Irish immigrants came from Ireland to work the coal mines and they gained employment in Northeastern Pennsylvania coal mines. Once the man of the house died, the women and children got kicked out of their houses because the coal companies owned all of the homes. Houses were owned by the company,” McIntyre saif.
Even though Parade Day is an ethnic festival honoring the Irish, Clark said it has evolved to honor culture in general.
“Sure, it’s an ethnic festival and Irish parade, but it’s not just an Irish parade. It’s a Scranton parade. It’s a Lackawanna County parade. We’ve been fortunate enough to have UNICO, which is the Italian-American organization, Friends of Poland, we even had a large group of Hispanic soccer players. We’re very proud that other ethnic groups have come together at this parade,” Clark said.
Scranton: Aerial Drone vs. Wilkes-Barre: The Mummers band
Though both Scranton and Wilkes-Barre are honoring Irish heritage and bringing together the community, each parade promises something unique and special to the event.
For Wilkes-Barre, that something special is the treat of mummers bands.
“You should do a little research on that ‘cause they’re very, very, very popular, and they have very elaborate costumes,” Propok said when asked about mummers bands.
Scranton will offer a new viewpoint with the help of Access Aerial this year, a company that will be filming the parade with a drone.
“The drone will capture aerial footage of the parade this year and place it on our website, www.stpatparade.com,” Dave Clark said.
Still, everyone has their favorite parade.
“Scranton’s parade is bigger, but for me, it’s about my home town. Wilkes-Barre’s parade will always be special to me,” said Doreen Grizzanti of Wilkes-Barre.
“I get wasted at both parades. I don’t discriminate,” said Tori Ingram of Kingston.
“Are you kidding me? Scranton is the best parade. I’ve never been to the Wilkes-Barre parade, but my Wilkes-Barre friends come to the Scranton parade. We don’t go to their’s. That’s got to tell you something,” Corey Olmer of Scranton said.
Decide for yourself when Parade Day hits downtown Scranton at 11:45 a.m. on Saturday, March 14, and downtown Wilkes-Barre at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 15.