Irish reign on Western Avenue
By Steve Metsch firstname.lastname@example.org March 10, 2013 7:12PM
A drummer of a bagpipe band marches down South Western Avenue during the South Side Irish St. Patrick's Day Parade in Chicago, IL, on Sunday, March 10, 2013. | Ting Shen~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 12, 2013 6:27AM
The South Side Irish reigned on Sunday.
Book-ended by showers, the South Side Irish St. Patrick’s Day Parade went off with just a few sprinkles and without any major problems, unless you count the Plumbers Union Local 130 van and float that had to be pushed down the route.
Unlike past years marred with unruly behavior, Sunday’s rendition was like last year’s, free of trouble. Or, as one man said, “more subdued.”
Chicago police said there had been no arrests made moments after the two-hour parade ended about 2 p.m.
Crowds, according to police and those all-knowing bouncers at bars on the west side of Western Avenue, were down from last year. They figured soggy weather and a zero tolerance for alcohol, teamed with heavier fines, probably made the parade more family-friendly.
Chicago police said an estimated 150,000 flocked to the 19th Ward. Some went to the parade. Some to family parties or bars. Some to all three.
More than 90 entries paraded down Western, from 103rd to 115th Street. Most featured something colored Kelly green. Some played Irish music. All were greeted warmly.
Sunday morning’s haze and drizzle did little to dampen spirits. Bagpipe bands warmed up in the parking lots before the parade began, and children settled into fire-engine floats clad in shamrocks and bright-green wigs.
Sounds of bagpipes soon filled the streets. They were followed by trolleys and trains, Irish dancers and wolfhounds, adults pulling children in wagons and good old-fashioned marching bands. American, Irish and Chicago flags waved in the wind. People in the crowd sipped Green River soda, and kids hung over barriers on both sides of Western hoping for candy to fly their way.
Irish was the day’s theme. Just ask the folks at WXRT (93.1 FM). Their float had disc jockeys such as morning man Lin Brehmer dancing to the tunes of “Domino” by Irish musician Van Morrison.
“To me, this is a little bit like being in Ireland,” said parade committee co-chairman Kevin Coakley when asked about the weather.
But the rain ended as a ribbon-cutting kicked off the march. Parade organizers chose the area’s first-responders — police, firefighters and medics — as this year’s grand marshals, along with the families of fallen Chicago police officer Michael Flisk, firefighter Walter Patmon Jr. and fire Capt. Herbie Johnson.
Peggy Hassan, of Evergreen Park, got choked up when she saw police officers and firefighters pause and salute at the park named for firefighters Patrick King and Anthony Lockhart, who died fighting a fire at a tire store in 1998.
“We go way back with the fire department. My uncle was a firefighter. My son, Christopher, is a Chicago firefighter and my father, Bernard Waters, was,” said Hassan, who wore light-up shamrock glasses and a 2012 parade hoodie.
“It’s nice to be appreciated. I knew Herbie Johnson. He was fantastic, everybody’s friend,” Christopher said.
Here are more highlights from a wet and festive day in Chicago’s 19th Ward:
With rain falling before the parade, the Berchman family found perhaps the perfect vantage point. They sat inside a covered bus stop shelter south of 105th Street. They were dry, and 4-year-old Scarlett couldn’t wait to hear bagpipes.
Keith and MaryCarol Berchman, former South Siders, grew up attending the parade and now bring Scarlett, sister Ellsie, 2, and brother Hurley, 9 months.
“We went to breakfast at Beverly Bakery and have been here about an hour,” said MaryCarol, 32, who is expecting their fourth child.
Breakfast? Corned beef hash, of course.
Dressed in a bright green Blackhawks jersey featuring Bobby Hull’s No. 9, and a green derby, Shawn Smith, 32, was hard to miss as he stood beside wife Kellen Smith, 32, in her kelly green cowboy hat.
Shawn grew up in Beverly. The parade, which dates back to 1979, is a family tradition,
“My mom and the aunts would stay home and cook. The dads would bring the kids to the parade. When we have children, I want to bring them here,” Shawn said.
Like many, Kellen is happy the parade has returned after not being held in 2010 or 2011.
“I grew up by Midway Airport, and my family would make a pilgrimage here every year,” she said.
About three hours after the parade, Joe Connelly, co-chairman of the parade committee, said he had heard no complaints.
“It was a great day and we had a great parade. Everybody enjoyed it, those watching and those participating,” he said.
Asked about the rain that stopped in time for the parade, he said, “We must be doing something right.”
“The rain didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. I’m at a house party now, and everyone is having fun. In terms of the neighborhood, people came out and supported us the way that we asked,” Connelly said.
Irish for a day
Steve Paterson, 30, of Willow Springs, watched the parade through his green-tinted shamrock-shaped glasses he found at a re-sale store for $1.
“I enjoy pretending to be Irish for an afternoon,” Paterson said.
Ditto his friend, Dale Howard, 23, of Lyons.
“I pretend to be Irish and just have a good time,” Howard said.
They stood outside Cork & Kerry, trying to figure out if they wanted to each pay a $15 cover charge to go inside.
Paterson wondered if that was because, unlike in previous years, there no longer were busloads of thirsty parade-goers coming in from far flung towns and neighborhoods.
Next door, no cover charge was charged at Keegan’s Pub.
“Thanks for the information,” Paterson told a reporter.
Emerald Isle Mile
Morgan Riordan, 11, of Mount Greenwood, wore a green tutu and green derby as part of her ensemble to run in the inaugural Emerald Isle Mile sponsored by Running Excels. Morgan said the cool weather was “perfect to run.” Her goal was run a mile in less than 7 minutes. She finished in 8:33. Approximately 300 runners participated. The men’s winner was Steven Bugarin at 4:32. Ashley Ehlers led the women at 6:02. Runners and passers-by were treated to free mint chocolate ice cream after the race.
It was the first South Side Irish parade for Sister Anna Kim, a Little Company of Mary nun from Seoul, South Korea. Kim lives with a group of nuns in Evergreen Park and went to the festivities with Sue Coyle, who lives near 109th Street and Western.
Coyle said the parade was calmer for the second year in a row. She did not miss the drunken debauchery of earlier years.
“It was terribly crazy,” Coyle said. “It was a Mardi Gras scene. If people just behave themselves, we’re all for the parade.”
Beverly resident Achele Norwood, 30, was thrilled to finally convince her sister, Amber Lang, 34, of Minooka, to attend the parade.
In previous years, Lang was busy with prior commitments. After having a blast Sunday, she vowed to return.
Norwood liked how the parade “is more family-friendly now,” noting that her three sons, ages 12, 11 and 6, loaded up on candy.
Have RV, will travel
Pat Winters, of Worth, has rented an RV for the parade for the past 15 years. He got permission to park it in a parking lot near 107th and Western.
Winters said he expected 75 to 100 people to show up for his parking lot party. In prior years when the weather has been better, he said as many as 300 people have showed up at his RV.
Renting the RV for the day cost $300, but it gives him a place to store food, coats and quickly use the bathroom when the port-a-potty lines get too long.
“Absolutely it’s worth it,” Winters said. “I’ll feed you six or seven beers and you’ll see.”
Won’t go hungry
Neil Byers, who owns Horse Thief Hollow Brew Pub, 10426 S. Western Ave., said he hired six security guards and rented five portable toilets for the parade. He also purchased 400 pounds of pork shoulder and 400 pounds of corned beef to feed parade customers.
The bar also served McGarry’s Irish Stout — named after Beverly resident Marty McGarry, a boxing coach who is suffering from a rare genetic disorder.
While the brew pub’s business wasn’t what he had hoped during the parade, Byers said the week leading up to the parade was good for business.
“I think the weather has something to do with it,” Byers said.
Byers also said that a tampered-down parade is something of a Catch-22 because many of the businesses including bars on Western Avenue help finance the parade. The bars need big crowds to make good profits, but the parade itself suffers if the celebration gets out of hand.
“Our business has been stronger,” Byers said of parade day sales. “We’re not doing that strong today, but all week has been great.”
‘The true Holy Land’
Before the parade started, a Feast of St. Patrick Mass was held at St. Cajetan Church, which was standing-room only.
During his sermon, the Rev. Frank Kurucz had folks laughing in the pews.
“Looking at this seas of green, I’ve finally come to the realization that I’m totally outnumbered,” he said.
Later he said the day “is totally about tradition and celebrating family, faith heritage,” and spoke fondly of the Irish who came to this country and overcame prejudice with hard work and education.
He received a rare in-church ovation after he spoke of being a young priest at St. Alexander’s Roman Catholic Church in Palos Heights when an older priest talked of an upcoming trip to the Holy Land.
After Kurucz asked the older priest if he was thrilled that he’d be walking where Jesus walked, the older cleric paused and said, “I’m not going there. I’m going to Ireland, the true Holy Land.”
Contributing: Jon Seidel and Casey Toner