I was writing weekly for the now defunct Montauk Pioneer and had moved to live in Montauk full time. It was October and although everyone knows Montauk, living there off-season one gets to really know Montauk. The following March of 2006 assignments were being handed out for March for the large free weekly that owned the Montauk Pioneer. It seemed no one wanted to cover the Montauk St Patty’s Parade. It meant fighting traffic to get there, and blowing up a Saturday for those who already worked a five-day week. Since I lived in Montauk the traffic issue was moot and every Saturday, I used to go into town anyway. When I mentioned to East End legend Dan Rattiner who was running the editorial meeting, I had never ever been to the parade his smile widened and told me I had “quite an experience coming!” Dan’s dad was the pharmacist in Montauk and Dan lived in Montauk after his family had relocated to Montauk from New Jersey in the 1950’s. He recalled when the parade actually marched east to west not west to east like it has for the last 30 years. This coming Sunday, March 24 will be the 57th annual parade – starting at noon on Edgemere Street just west of the LIRR train station in Montauk.
Montauk off-season is quiet. You can park in the village anywhere. Going to the IGA is never a crowd problem and you have to go out of your way not to speed driving through town because there is just zero traffic. So, the morning of the parade I woke and decided to ride my road bicycle the short distance into the village. With my digital camera (pre-iPhone) and my pens, pad and paper in a backpack I was excited. I had already written articles about the parade’s Grand Marshall and also attended kick-off events at Gurney’s and the Montauket during the week. However, I had no actual idea what I was about to see when my bike rolled down the hill into the village.
Along Main Street (Route 27) and Edgemere Street and around the Village Green were 50,000 people (actually reported by the East Hampton police as that year’s estimate) the largest crowd ever to see the parade, even to this day. I locked my bike, stood in front of the Chamber of Commerce building where I bought my first Montauk St. Paddy’s Parade soup cup (I now have 12!). Carl Darenberg served me my first chowder as I proceeded to watch from next to the soup area. Many groups of bag pipers, along with various bands from fire stations from across Long Island marched past me.
There were local floats from the US Coast Guard, local businesses, and organizations. There were many local community groups and weird floats like one from a group called the “coneheads” where everyone on the float was sporting very tall SNL “coneheads.” It went on for over an hour. Fire engine sirens, bag pipe songs, brass bands rocking traditional band songs, drum units from fire and police departments proudly walked by. Antique old-time fire department apparatuses were polished and presented by their respective fire departments from all over Long Island.
Candy was tossed from floats and beads and trinkets were given by clowns and other parade participants. Even Chuck Schumer showed up to politic. The crowd was diverse and everyone wore something green. The locals were there too, but most were actually marching with the floats. This was the largest small-town big time parade I have ever seen.
I still go back every year. I see old friends, but most of all I get to feel Montauk in it’s “highest feather,” with the green stripe painted down Main Street and the flag of Ireland hanging on all the flagpoles. It has snowed, it has drizzled, it has been very cold and it has been warm. Every time after the parade I always feel the joy of spring and summer coming sooner than later.