The Seattle St. Patrick's Day Parade may only draw a few hundred spectators on a blustery day, but it reflects Seattle's inclusiveness while honoring some of the city's most flamboyant characters.
It pays to talk to some of the older folks attending a parade — in this case, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade on a blustery Seattle Saturday — because, oh, the stories they might tell you.
Among the several hundred spectators who watched along the parade route on Fourth Avenue were people who just happened to be downtown and suddenly found themselves staring at bagpipers, Irish dancers and 180-pound Irish wolfhounds that stood 6 feet 3 on their hind legs.
As the parade moved along, parade chair John Keane, 66, could be seen throughout the route, keeping things in order. He’s the author of “Irish Seattle,” a picture book that details the history of the Irish here.
Seattle’s parade, he said, reflects the city’s personality.
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“We have a friendlier parade,” he said. “We’ve got a roller-derby group, we have people dressed as lumberjacks.” In some years the parade has also included Irish gays and lesbians dressed as leprechauns, he said — a group that’s not been welcomed by parade organizers in New York.
Also attending the parade was John Costello, 79, a retired Seattle attorney who flew in from Hawaii just for the parade and other celebrations this week.
He recalled John Doyle Bishop, who died in 1980 at age 67 and is always honored at Seattle’s St. Patrick’s parades.
Bishop was an Idaho farm boy who remade himself into a flamboyant Liberace-type character, with white wavy hair, heavy dark eyebrows and a tendency to wear long coats and capes.
In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, Bishop owned an exclusive women’s clothing store in Seattle.
Every year Bishop took it upon himself to paint a green stripe down Fifth Avenue, using regular paint that didn’t come off very easily. For that, he’d get arrested.
Costello remembered being along on one of those paint jobs.
“I’m sure we went to a bar first. I remember the green stripe not being very straight,” he said. “When we got to University Street, there was a squad car waiting for us.”
Bishop insisted on being arrested so that he could get his picture in the paper — “a million dollars worth of publicity,” he told Costello.
Eventually the green painted stripe was replaced with green duct tape, but it would tangle up in car tires.
Now, “traffic powdered paint,” the kind used by surveyors, is spread on a 2 ½-inch wide strip. It largely withstood the rains before Saturday’s parade.
Holding an Irish flag as she marched was Mary Shriane, one of the organizers of Seattle’s first official St. Patrick’s Day Parade, held on March 11, 1972.
That event was the Seattle Irish community’s response to what had happened in Northern Ireland two months earlier, when a civil-rights march left 13 protesters dead on “Bloody Sunday.”
Shriane said some local Irish wanted to show their anger by marching with coffins. But “Seattle was a very laid-back place,” Shriane said, and carrying coffins didn’t seem appropriate. So “we decided to celebrate being Irish.”
And so they did again on Saturday, in the city’s 38th such parade.
At one point, a firefighter in his black dress uniform and black cap — part of a contingent of local firefighters in the parade — knelt down to talk to a young kid who was mesmerized by his outfit.
“I was worried when it rained all morning that nobody would show up,” said Keane, the parade chair.
“But a few minutes before the parade started it stopped raining, and there was even a little bit of sun. It was like somebody up above was taking care of us.”
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org