Salinte! Y Salud! Cultures Come Together in the Cloud City
There are certain things that happen in Leadville to assure that autumn is on its way: the kids go back to school, the leaves start to change – quickly, and the St. Patrick’s Day Practice Parade is held. Often touted as the last official “summer” event, the parade has been held the third Saturday in September for nearly 4 decades. And so it will again this Saturday, Sept. 16 with marchers gathering at the top of Capitol Hill at 11 a.m. Everyone is welcome.
For readers unfamiliar with this one-of-a-kind, Colorado happening, here’s some history on the annual Leadville tradition that has been featured in countless news stories, bringing much needed visitors and attention to Leadville during the leaner years. While many are familiar with the regular Irish holiday, traditionally celebrated on March 17, Leadville’s St. Patrick’s Day Practice Parade got its start on historic Harrison Avenue back in 1978. The origin of the idea sounds more like an Irish joke: two Leadville men walk into a bar in Nebraska. They take a look around and can’t believe their eyes: it’s a St. Patrick’s Day Celebration. But how can that be? It’s September!
Being Irish, they stay for a pint or two, discovering that the party was to mark the six-month, half-year “practice” of the official Irish holiday in March. Fortunately, those fine Irish lads, also known as Leadville Judge Neil Reynolds and businessman Walter Klein, brought the idea back to Leadville and thus began one of the Cloud City’s favorite traditions.
The great thing about the St. Patrick’s Day Practice Parade is that you never really know what is going to happen. Some celebrations have been unforgettable, like the year three bagpipe bands from the Front Range made the trip up. These musicians are usually booked to play the bigger parades for the real St. Patrick’s Day, but sometimes in September the budget, schedule and pure Irish luck win out. That same year, the parade was suspended midway at the courthouse as Judge Reynolds performed nuptials for a young couple. After the ceremony, all three bands formed a circle and played “Amazing Grace.” Many sentimental tears were wiped away as the bagpipes echoed across a perfect fall day, aspens a blaze along Colorado’s two highest peaks.
There was at least one year when the parade route went backward, in the “practice” spirit, starting down at the south end of historic Harrison Avenue at the Diamond Shamrock. It was a good concept, but it never really worked. Not only did people forget where to meet pre-parade, but the procession also had a hard time marching past Leadville’s Legendary Irish bar, the Silver Dollar Saloon with all that good whiskey. Some years, only a handful of people marched down the avenue, especially if there was an early snowfall. Other times, a slew of Irish city slickers made the trek up for a perfect Cloud City parade.
Some Septembers, it seemed the parade might not happen in all due to lack of funds, or clashing Irish personalities. During the first three decades, the parade was always sponsored by the Greater Leadville Hibernian Mining and Marching Society. But as time ticked by, and members grew weary, the new Leadville Irish stepped in to carry on the tradition. In recent years, the group carrying the St. Patrick’s Day Practice Parade shillelagh has been The Shack Club, spearheaded by Leadville businessman Luke Finken. And through a set of ironic circumstances – if not flat out Irish luck – Finken is now part owner in the new Irish Bar – Wilde’s Green Hour – which is located right next door to the old Irish bar. Of course, this makes it easier for everyone to find their way to the post-parade revelry, plus marchers now have a pick of pubs.
So grab your shillelagh, pull on that green sweater and raise your glass: May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full Moon on a dark night, and a smooth road all the way to your door! Slainte!
Fiesta In The Clouds: Fiesta Fun for Everyone!
Last year the St. Patrick’s Practice Parade was moved from its usual third Saturday in September, to October 1 in order to accommodate the Irish diplomats visiting Colorado. It was a grand party, providing a great day for all, and another opportunity for Leadville to shine in the international spot light.
Since The Shack Club was on the last year of their 3-year parade permit, they graciously transferred that permit, in order that another heritage celebration could make its way down historic Harrison Avenue: Fiesta in the Clouds! In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, this day-long celebration will now join efforts with the St. Patrick’s Day Practice Parade for what’s bound to be an international melting pot of cultures, all marching their way down historic Harrison Avenue.
Produced by Fiestas Patrias, a grass roots organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Leadville’s rich Hispanic culture through education and celebration, Fiesta in The Clouds is the brain child of Lee Trujillo, owner of The Scarlet Bar in downtown Leadville. The idea stemmed from a desire to celebrate and honor Lake County’s Hispanic community and their rich cultural traditions. For readers who may not know, Fiestas Patrias is a Spanish phrase meaning “Patriotic Holidays.” Fiesta in the Clouds celebrates the independence days of Mexico, Belize, Brazil, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Chile and the cultures of all Latin American countries.
In its inaugural year, Fiesta In The Clouds had a lively showing, and this year is lining up to offer a host of fiesta fun, from children dancing to late night Baile! options for the adults, and plenty of delicious cultural dishes to experience. For more details: CLICK.
So there you have it! This Saturday you won’t have to go very far to catch some international flavor, while celebrating Leadville’s rich cultural traditions. Parade starts at 11 a.m. – see you on historic Harrison Avenue. Saliente! Y Salud!
© Leadville Today.