May 26, 2009

Crown Point musters 141st Memorial Day parade


CROWN POINT — The first parade honored fallen soldiers here in May of 1868, three years after the Civil War ended.

When Decoration Day was officially renamed, Crown Point kept marching.

Monday marked the 141st lineup of one of the oldest Memorial Day parades in the nation.

Deanna E. Joiner, an Air Force veteran from Crown Point now serving in the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, has marched in close to 30 of them, first at age 9 or 10 as a Girl Scout, she said.

For generations, a member of her family has held the original flag the women of Ironville made for Chester Rhoades to carry into the Civil War.

"He was my grandfather's uncle," Joiner said. "He's buried at the battlefield at Antietam."

The original flag has since been retired, but Joiner helped organize the solemn commemoration that visited eight rural cemeteries tucked beside back roads near small country churches.

Joiner hopes youth do not lose sight of what Memorial Day means: paying tribute to those who gave everything.

"The children do need to learn more about respect for the flag," she added.

By 1 p.m., event organizer Jodi Gibbs began to coordinate arriving pieces of parade.

In a march that stretched from Route 9/22 to Monitor Bay, paper plates stapled to wooden stakes marked where more than 30 entries would be placed.

"Jodi, we have four trucks coming in," yelled one of the Crown Point fire captains as the red trucks rolled up.

The Crown Point Parade mustered the largest gathering in Essex County Monday, capping three days of events.

Awaiting their horse and buggy, 2009 Grand Marshals Michael and Janet Goot walked to the front of the line between fire trucks.

The couple was honored for a combined nearly 65 years of service in Crown Point's A.E. Phelps Fire Company.

Tim Huestis arrived from his Warner Hill farm with an open carriage drawn by workhorses Chip and Charlie.

"Do you think there's been a horse and buggy every year since it started?" he quipped.

A few paper-plate markers away, the Crown Point prom court relaxed under a palm tree on their float, wearing shades in the bright sun.

Behind them, sisters Carolyn and Sarah Evens from Witherbee geared up with bicycles bedecked in red, white and blue bunting.

And the high notes of a fife trailed overhead.

Sen. Betty Little arrived about the same time as Town Supervisor Dale French. They carried miniature flags and remarked on the long-standing celebration.

"It started in 1868," French said. "There were a lot of soldiers; Crown Point had two companies in the Civil War."

Scores of the town's residents have served in six wars since then, though the parade route remains much the same.

"I liked it when we went up to Pearl Street then turned around and marched back again," Joiner said.

"The hill seems to be getting steeper all the time," French said.

The fife and drum corps started to play, and the parade fell into line.

E-mail Kim Smith Dedam at: