The gray clouds hanging low over Mansfield’s pickled-themed parade and festival Saturday afternoon finally made good on their rain threats, but only as the last entry finished its amble down Main Street.
It was a partial victory for the third annual Best Maid St. Paddy’s Day Pickle Parade and Palooza. Mostly for the parade – less so for the Palooza.
Even as a band continued playing on the covered stage, most of the 64 retail and food vendors started shutting down as the weather soured, some holding out longer than others. Officials also shuttered the children’s entertainment area, including inflatable bounce houses and a petting zoo.
Even the pickle-eating and pickle juice-drinking contests were scrapped, because it was too wet to set out the registration table, an official said.
The event, which celebrates St. Patrick’s Day and Mansfield’s homegrown pickle producer, Best Maid, drew an estimated 5,000 people to its inaugural event in 2012. The number doubled last year, according to police estimates. And long-range weather forecasts calling for sunshine and 70 degrees on Saturday had officials projecting a turnout of 15,000. Despite the threat of rain all day, Mansfield police estimated the crowd at 13,000 this year.
“We’re not disappointed,” said Queen Sarah Zink. “We feel grateful that the people came out to see something that we worked really hard on.”
The parade, with a queue of 78 entries, the most so far, was hailed as a success. Several thousand viewers lined both sides of Main Street, more densely in front of the century-old buildings of the 100 block.
“It’s kind of dreary,” said Matthew Kammerer, attending his first pickle parade along with wife, Elizabeth. “But it’s still nice. There’s people here, so it’s fun.”
The reduced foot traffic was being felt in MaryLou’s Sandwich Shoppe, 137 N. Main St., as the parade neared.
“I did a lot more business by this time last year,” said owner Melisa Perez. “But the moral of the story is, it’s an amazing parade, it’s good for the community, and good for the people.”
The parade entries were eclectic, aside from the green and pickle themes. There were classic cars, an ambulance on monster-truck tires, cheerleader groups, representatives of various local companies on foot and flatbed trailers, Shriners on their go-carts and white-clad Elvises on mini-bikes buzzing the crowd, and all sorts of participants throwing beaded necklaces and candy to the kids.
It was bittersweet for 8-year-old Madison Wood, especially when the cheerleaders passed by. Madison is a Mansfield Pee Wee Football Association cheerleader who was planning to be in the parade, until the organization missed the registration deadline.
But near the end of the 50-minute parade, she reconsidered.
“I’d rather watch,” she said. “Because I do not want to walk.”
There was a tense moment as one as one parade participant -- Lizz Larsen,who called herself a “queen wannabee” -- caught the attention of police as she ran alongside one float toting a small green-and-white ball that she wanted to toss to Zink. She threw it into the wrong trailer. Officers briefly took possession of the ball and questioned Larsen, she said.
“They thought there was something wrong with it -- like a bomb,” Larsen said as she caught up with Zink after the parade. “I didn’t see anything wrong with -- I mean, we were throwing candy off the float.”
Zink pointed out the important distinction between throwing things from a float and “throwing something on a float.”
Larsen said the officers returned the ball to her son when he asked for it..
The first sprinkles arrived as the parade ended, and within minutes it was drenching.
Julie Markley was one of the vendor holdouts, continuing to dole out treats from the covered counter at the Gypsy Ice Cream trailer.
“People will eat ice cream anytime,” she said as she offered samples of Gypsy’s pickle ice cream, which was speckled with real pickle bits. “It was so much fun last year that we wanted to be part of it again.”
At Steven’s Garden and Grill, Paula Dycus-McKay was serene at a patio table, watching umbrellas come and go. She had no complaints.
“We were blessed with rain and a parade on the same day,” she said.