BRISTOL, R.I. (WPRI) – The nation’s longest-running Fourth of July celebration went off as planned Friday morning, despite looming threats from Hurricane Arthur.
Effects from the season’s first tropical-storm-turned-hurricane forced several other towns and cities across southern New England to put their festivities on hold this Independence Day. More than a dozen communities are planning to celebrate the Fourth on July 5 or 6, while others set off fireworks a day early on July 3.
But in Bristol – a town that marks its patriotic enthusiasm with red, white and blue traffic lines – rescheduling was not going to come lightly. The Fourth of July celebration in Bristol, an event that has been taking place for the last 229 years, is planned well before the rest of the country starts thinking about summer.
“It’s the biggest thing that happens all year,” general chairman Ray Lavey said.
“It gets bigger every year,” Trudy Palazio – a longtime parade committee member said early Friday morning. “There’s more and more people that come every year.”
- Videos: Interviews from the Parade
- Updates: Pinpoint 7-Day Futurecast
- Weather Blog: Fourth of July Weekend Weather
- Track the Storm: Interactive Hurricane Tracker
- Related: Full List of Fourth of July Festivities
Organizers said earlier in the week that they were expecting up to 125,000 people to flock to the tiny town for this year’s festivities. That number may have dwindled due to reports and, later, actual sightings of rain, but that didn’t stop Bristol Parade Chairwoman Donna Falcoa from announcing at 4:15 a.m. Friday that the parade would go on as planned, rain or shine. Bristolians and parade-goers from around the state and beyond were relieved at the news; however, it seemed many were not surprised.
“My very first year on the committee it poured, like poured, and it still goes on and people are still sitting there waiting for the parade to go by,” Falcoa said. “Bristolians are very tough, and Rhode Islanders are very tough. We don’t let much get us down.”
“It is unusual for it to rain on the Fourth of July,” Providence resident Stephanie Avila said while standing in the rain Friday, “but it has happened before.”
Marchers in the parade started the 2.5-mile tour through Bristol at 10:30 a.m. Friday. Spectators lined the sidewalks huddled under umbrellas; some retreated to the relative dryness of their tents, many of which were set up Thursday night by the town’s most eager patriots.
Marching band members splashed through the streets, squinting through raindrops to read the music sheets hanging in front of their eyes. Members of the military dressed in uniform and received support ovations from onlookers.
Besides the rain, it was like any other Bristol parade.
The annual parade hasn’t been canceled since 1901, Lavey told Eyewitness News. Some context: In 1901, William McKinley was a few months away from being assassinated and replaced by Theodore Roosevelt, and Woonsocket-born Nap Lajoie was en route to hitting .426 for the Connie-Mack-led Philadelphia Athletics.
Such longstanding traditions tend to create connections across multiple generations, and – for many parade-goers in Bristol Friday morning – that connection manifested in what a 10-year-old girl described as “family bonding.”
“I get to come here with my family and really bond with them,” East Providence 10-year-old Kacey Costic said, adding that she would “feel upset if the parade got canceled, but happy that we still have one every year.”
Kayla Dallaire, 23, of Warren said the centuries-old tradition was a source of pride for local residents.
“Bristol-Warren is such a small town, and this is one thing we all have to be proud of,” she said. “Everyone works so hard all year long… to have it canceled would have been really upsetting… I know me and my friends look forward to it every year.”
Dallaire said she and her family pitched a tent Thursday night to ensure they got a good spot once the parade began. Another parade-goer, Eric Wilson, said he did the same. Why would families opt to sleep outside, brave through threats of heavy downpours and wake up before the sun on a precious day off from work – all for the sake of a parade?
“It’s part of the whole experience,” Wilson said.
Trudy Palazio put it simpler.
“Because it’s the Fourth of July,” she said – perhaps exclaimed. “And it’s Bristol!”