History

The parade has marched a long and winding route
— by Steve Bingham

Article courtesy of The Newtown Bee

An estimated 4,000 people lined the streets of Newtown to view the town's first-ever Labor Day Parade back on September 3, 1962. John F. Kennedy was in the White House, Fidel Castro had taken power in Cuba, and Lee Glover was in charge here in Newtown...of the parade that is.

Mr. Glover still fondly remembers the town's first Labor Day Parade. As Newtown Hook & Ladder Chief, Lee knew a thing or two about parades and was selected as parade marshal. In those days, parade marshals headed the planning of the event in addition to sitting in the car and waving to the crowd.

"I remember it was a fair day. We didn't have any weather problems. What we did is we had five divisions. The fire chief for each company headed each division. It ran very smoothly because we were used to marching and parading," said Mr. Glover.

Earlier in the year, the Rotary Club of Newtown came up with the idea to hold a parade on Labor Day, a holiday many in town considered to be sort of a drab and boring.

"They just thought there was a lack of something going on on Labor Day and this certaintly livened up the holiday," Mr. Glover said. "I think it's done that even more so than they could have ever realized. I never thought it would last this long."

Like today, the first Labor Day parade kicked off at the Soldiers and Sailors monument at the top of Main Street and headed south past the flag pole. However, in that first year, the parade kept going straight to Amaral Motors (and on to Dickinson Park) instead of turning left onto Glover Avenue.

The Newtown Bee reported on the excitement surrounding that first parade, which was put on by Rotary and part of the "Progress Days" festivities that also included a dance and block party that weekend. A total of 41 units marched in that first parade. This year, more than 200 units will take part.

"The parade was highlighted by many floats and spirited bands and marching units, political party candidates, clowns, decorated bicycles, and mounted 4H riding units," The Bee reported. Leading the parade that year was Mr. Glover, who actually headed the event for the first three years.

"I remember the political situation that first year," Mr. Glover said. "When we first set the parade up, there was no division for politicians. Then a committee decided to have a group of politicians in there. There were pros and cons on it, but we finally let them in. I have to laugh now because today it's almost a full division of politicians, but that's part of the spirit of Labor Day."

Newtown's fire companies have always been the backbone of the parades, and George Lockwood of Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire Company has been there every step of the way. He marched that first year and every year since. Mr. Lockwood has been a member of the Sandy Hook company for more than 50 years.

"The parade just keeps getting bigger and bigger. I remember in the early days there were just a handful of people along the street as you passed by. There were more people marching that there were watching," he said.

In that first year, Stanley Verry was grand chairman of "Progress Days," Dr. Vincent Jablon of Newtown Rotary was parade chairman, and Charles Gehring of the Jaycees headed the publicity. Parade judges were Henry Schankenberg, Ernst Guckel, Alexander Nagy, and Dorothy Mable.

Parade VIP's included First Selectman Charles W. Terrell, Jr, "Newtown's Mr. Citizen" Bertram Stroock, who had donated the land for Dickinson Park the year before, and "Miss Newtown," Antonia Woyerstrass.

In those days, Newtown was a much smaller town with country flare. "Everybody when you walked down Main Street knew each other and said 'hello.' That has changed," Mr. Glover said.

The Labor Day Parades in Newtown have provided many fond memories for residents over the years. Who can forget parade marshal Lee Davidson roller skating the parade route dressed in a gorilla suit in 1979, or the year well-known Republican Mae Schmidle managed to get an elephant into the march. One recent parade was highlighted by a fly-over by a World War II B-17. Newtown's parade has lived on for so long thanks to a long list of organizers who take great care in putting on a good show. Also, Newtown's Labor Day Parade has grown to be the largest in the state, attracting governors, senators, and other dignitaries. Most towns that have parades schedule them for Memorial Day Weekend.