Fall Snow Puts Icing on Golden Aspens
St. Patrick’s Day Practice Parade on Sept. 15
By Kathy Bedell, © Leadville Today
There are certain things that happen in Leadville to signal 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. Wait, what?! Isn’t St. Patrick’s Day in March?
Well, when it comes to celebrating its Irish heritage, America’s highest city likes to do it TWICE a year. Besides March weather can be cold and snowy for a proper parade, so why not do it again the third Saturday in March?!
And in 2018, this quirky Leadville happening will be celebrating 40 years! On Saturday, Sept. 15, the 40th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Practice Parade will start at high Noon at the top of Capitol Hill (in front of the Mining Museum on W. 9th).
From there, marchers head south down historic Harrison Avenue, pause at the Lake County Courthouse for a moving rendition of “Amazing Grace,” and finally, continue down Leadville’s main street and into the Silver Dollar Saloon.
“To mark the 40th year of the St. Patrick’s Day Practice Parade, our community is proud to announce the featured band will be Leadville’s own Mt. Massive Youth Pipe Band, under the direction of Colin McFee,” stated Parade Organizer Luke Finken.
This one-of-a-kind Colorado happening is a spin-off of the true Irish holiday celebrated six months earlier on March 17. Today, it’s one of the Cloud City’s favorite traditions. The yearly gathering started back in 1978 when two Leadville men walked into a pub in Nebraska and looking around, they couldn’t believe their eyes: A St. Patrick’s Day celebration was underway. How could that be? It was September!
However, being good Irish lads, known as Leadville Judge Neil Reynolds and businessman Walt Klein, the two joined in the fun and then brought the idea back to America’s highest city. Since then, September’s “Slainte!” toast continues to be raised among the changing aspens, making for the perfect combination of gold and green!
And the unique thing about St. Patrick’s Day Practice Parade is that you never really know what’s going to happen. Some celebrations are unforgettable. Like the year, three bagpipe bands made the trip up. These musicians usually play the bigger parades for the real St. Patrick’s Day, but in September pure Irish luck prevails and the celebration is on!
That year, during the procession’s usual stop in front of the courthouse, all three bands played “Amazing Grace.” There wasn’t a dry eye on Harrison Avenue as the drums and bagpipes echoed across a perfect fall day, aspens ablaze amid Colorado’s two highest peaks.
Other years, it seemed that the parade might not happen at all due to a lack of funds or clashing Irish personalities. There was one year when the parade marched a reverse route, starting at the south end of the avenue at Diamond Shamrock; it didn’t catch on though. Not only were people confused about where to meet before the parade, but the procession had a hard time marching past the saloon with all that good Irish whiskey, in order to perform the “Amazing Grace” tradition at the courthouse!
But as the parade marks four decades on September 15, be assured that there will be plenty of green splashed among the golden aspens on Harrison. So, grad your shillelagh, pull on that green sweater and head up to Leadville for 40th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Practice Parade. Slainte!
All marchers are welcome, meet in front of the National Mining Hall of Fame & Museum on W. 9th Street just before noon. If you’re interested in donating to the cause, which includes paying for the bagpipers, etc, please contact Parade Organizer Luke Finken at firstname.lastname@example.org.