A wet and memorable Fourth in Brattleboro


Photo Gallery | Brattleboro Fourth of July Parade 2014

BRATTLEBORO -- Given the rain falling early Friday morning, it seemed appropriate that members of Brattleboro's Free and Accepted Masons Lodge No. 102 were about to board a ship.

"We figured we'd come prepared with a boat," quipped Robert Baldauf, pointing to a parade-float trailer adorned with flags, cannons fashioned from black plastic pipe and a bedsheet sail.

Added Baldauf, a Masons district deputy grand master: "She's not quite watertight yet."

That summed up the spirit of those who braved a cool, wet morning to line up for the 41st annual Brattleboro Goes Fourth parade. Though the weather cut the size of the parade by roughly a third, marchers and volunteers still turned out en masse to ensure that Independence Day didn't pass by without fire engines, marching bands and waving flags.

"The weather won't stop people, I don't think. People love a parade," said Chip Cummings as he stood on Atwood Street, waving parade units into place.

Clutching a coffee and a limp, wet copy of the parade lineup, Cummings was among a group of volunteers tasked with controlling the chaos of organizing a large-scale parade.

A bit earlier, before 9 a.m., organizer Kevin O'Connor held an umbrella in a still-empty student parking lot outside Brattleboro Union High School. It was the start of a long day, with the parade to be followed by a full slate of events at Living Memorial Park and, in the evening, a fireworks display.

"We had volunteers out as early as 6 (a.m.) putting out cones and barricades. And we'll have people at the park cleaning up afterward," O'Connor said. "It really is a 6 in the morning until 11 o'clock, midnight kind of day."

He noted that, on a nice day, there would have been marchers already lining up for the 10 a.m. parade. But he knew that a rush was coming at some point.

"There's a certain moment where it just gets crazy," O'Connor said with a laugh. "Everybody shows up, and everybody has the same question: ‘Where are we supposed to be?'"

On Atwood Street, the early arrivals included Vickie Freckleton and her granddaughter, 6-year-old Shaeleigh Willard. Freckleton, a Colorado resident, traveled a bit farther than the average parade participant.

"I came all the way here to be in the parade with her," she said, gesturing toward a beaming Shaeleigh.

They also had a common cause: Freckleton's son and Shaeleigh's father is Sgt. Ryan Willard, a Brattleboro native who served three tours in Iraq and has since retired from the military.

"We're going to do it for dad," Freckleton said. "We've had so many sacrifice their lives to keep our country safe. It's an important thing to honor them."

A short distance down the street, members of the Brattleboro American Legion Band were arriving and beginning to warm up.

"We've marched in worse conditions," said the band's manager, Bill Wessel.

He recalled a parade postponed in North Carolina due to lightning -- not a safe environment for marchers carrying metal horns and flags. But on Friday, the only precautions needed were protective plastic coverings for moisture-sensitive instruments.

"She's got a clarinet in a bag," Wessel said, gesturing to a nearby band member.

Wessel proudly mentioned that the Brattleboro outfit is "the only Legion band in the state of Vermont." And he noted that nearly 30 members were participating in the parade.

"It's become a tradition in Brattleboro," Wessel said.

Back down in the high-school parking lot, about 30 minutes before the parade, the Masons prepared their admittedly rough approximation of the USS Ranger, a Continental Navy ship that launched in 1777 under Capt. John Paul Jones -- himself a Mason.

Behind them was a Thompson House bus decked with patriotic colors, followed by a minivan from Vernon Advent Christian Home. Noticing a group of wanderers nearby, O'Connor called out, "Brattleboro VFW? Follow me."

Nearby, 35 members of the Brattleboro Union High School Band stood in the rain.

"Remember, it could be 90 degrees," band Director Steve Rice told them.

At 10 a.m. sharp, the parade pulled out, heading up Fairground Road toward Canal Street led by police cruisers.

Just before the start, the parade got a bit shorter when three Brattleboro Fire Department trucks with emergency lights on quickly departed.

"They took all of the trucks that they had in the parade to three separate calls," O'Connor noted later. "They put their coats and water-proof pants over their dress uniforms."

One of the Brattleboro units, however, was able to reconnect with the end of the parade after handling a call on Birge Street. O'Connor also reported that a miscommunication on Canal Street led to a delay in the parade's progress, but it was resolved relatively quickly.

O'Connor added words of thanks to those who donated money to help pay for next year's parade.

"The whole thing ultimately went off without a hitch," he said. "It actually was memorable in a good way."

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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