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 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 15,000 to 20,000 people, compared with last year’s police estimate of 13,000. But John Pressley, president of the Pickled Mansfield Society, 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 had more entries and the Palooza had more retail and food vendors than in past years. For the first time, the parade included a marching band, which wasn’t easy to arrange, because last week was spring break. The Summit High School marching band rose to the occasion.
One of the driving forces behind the festival is to introduce residents and visitors to the historic downtown area. Amy Senato, a school curriculum coordinator, said that seemed to be a winning strategy, as she gazed at the parade.
“I can’t believe how much it’s grown in the last four years,” said Senato, who lives in South Arlington and in the Mansfield school district. “The first year, I don’t remember any barricades.”
Senato was escorting her parents, Sue and Ron Kuykendal of Illinois, to the parade and around town.
“It’s like living in a small town, but it’s not a small town,” Senato said. “You have the big-city conveniences, between Sam’s (Club) and Kohl’s and all the restaurants being opened.”
Her mother echoed Senato’s comments.
“Oh, my God, the stores and the restaurants!” she raved. “I’ve never seen so many restaurants!”
Nearby, Carlton Glover of Midlothian was having a disagreement with his 1-year-old daughter, Bryn, about a horse that had just passed by in the parade.
“She was trying to convince him that it wasn’t a horse,” said her mom, Joely Glover. “She said, ‘No Daddy, it’s a cow.”
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, 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 most of the post-parade festivities, including the pickle-eating and pickle-juice-drinking contests, as well as the non-competition beer drinking.
But Saturday, the vendors were doing brisk business, even the unorthodox ones.
At the Mansfield Chiropractor tent, Keith Reynolds and an assistant were giving free back rubs. He said had massaged about 30 people over three or four hours.
Jennifer Sanders of Grand Prairie was in the chiropractor’s chair with her face buried in a cushion. She has gone to chiropractors since being injured in a car accident years ago. But Saturday was just for pleasure.
“It’s always nice to get a back rub,” she said. “I definitely had a smile on my face when I saw this.”
A couple of tents over, Kennedale/Mansfield Plumbing staffers set out two real toilets and invited patrons to take a seat and get family or friends to take their pictures.
“People have been doing it all day,” said David Applegate. “They think it’s a hoot.”
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 Best Maid CEO Gary Dalton said Friday, “I don’t really know why we’re not” sponsoring it.
Robert Cadwallader, 817-390-7641