As the 90 parade entries prepared to launch Saturday from the St. Jude Catholic Church parking lot, first-time rider Beckie Norman had no idea of the public reception that awaited on Main Street.
Spectators stood 10 deep in many places behind the barricades along Main, looking forward to the signature event of the fourth annual World’s Only St. Paddy’s Day Pickle Parade and Palooza. Kids waited anxiously for the Elvis tribute minibikers and the many floats and classic cars whose occupants endlessly toss beads and candy to the curbs.
It was Norman’s first time to serve as one of the 15 Pickle Queens, who organize the event and then don red wigs and green thrift store prom dresses to ride floats.
“As we rounded the corner onto Main Street, to see everybody who showed up to support the parade — it was amazing,” Norman said. “We were told, ‘Wait till you see it.’ But still … .”
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The attendance estimates from police and city officials ranged from about 12,000 to 15,000 people, compared with last year’s police estimate of 13,000. But John Pressley, president of the Pickled Mansfield Society (PMS), which runs the festival, confidently declared 20,000.
He said he’s never seen so many spectators lining other parts of the parade route, especially East Broad Street.
“It’s been phenomenal,” Pressley said.
The parade was longer and the Palooza had more retail and food vendors than in past years. The children’s area proved very popular, with bounce houses, face-painting, crafts and a petting zoo.
The weather cooperated, mostly. Sunny skies turned to dense cloud cover as the parade was about to start. Wind gusts forced some vendors to leap onto their tables, arms spread, to pin down their wares.
But all preferred Saturday’s weather to last year’s, when dark clouds let loose with heavy rain and high winds. Although the storm spared the parade by a couple of minutes, it forced the cancellation of all the post-parade festivities, including the pickle-eating and pickle-juice-drinking contests, as well as the noncompetition beer drinking.
With all the shades of green on display Saturday, one hue was noticeably absent. Best Maid Products, the major condiment maker that churns out tens of millions of pickles annually from its Mansfield facility and was integral to the festival’s founding concept, did not participate in the fourth annual event.
Last year Best Maid contributed $30,000. The festival is doing without that support this year, Pickle Queens said, but they also say that a major increase in business sponsorship has provided much help.
“They just said they’re not going to participate,” said Queen Coleen Daniell. “They did not explain. And we have not had a meeting with them or a phone conversation … But there is no ill will at all.”
Brian Dalton, president of the 89-year-old family enterprise, was out of the country and couldn’t be reached for comment.
But Gary Dalton, a family member who has held various top positions with the company, said Friday, “I don’t really know why we’re not” sponsoring it.
Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641