The call to post rang out as Sam the Bugler began the fete, initiating cheers from the crowd.
Young children on the shoulders of their parents stretched their necks trying to get a glimpse of the promenade, their eyes wide as the extravagant floral arrangements and horse-drawn carriages transformed Broadway.
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Just hours before the official Saratoga 150 celebration day, more than 25,000 people gathered for the Floral Fete Promenade down Broadway. Dozens of horse-drawn carriages — transporting everyone from U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko to Marylou Whitney — were part of the sesquicentennial anniversary of Saratoga racing, which was celebrated in a style popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
“Sam was in front of me, and every time he would blow his bugle, it was like everyone would start cheering,” said Tom Durkin, the Saratoga Race Course announcer. “A lot of people just waving, having a good time … it was fun.”
Durkin, dressed in a fedora, suit and dress shoes, rode on a yellow electric scooter, leading the parade right behind Sam the Bugler.
“Very festive,” Durkin said.
One of the highlights for the crowd was when philanthropist and socialite Whitney rode by in a white horse-drawn carriage. Whitney was accompanied by her husband, John Hendrickson, as well as actress Susan Lucci.
“People have a lot of pride in Saratoga,” Durkin said. “It is a lost thing — except here.”
Kathy Weaver of Greenfield was among the Saratoga County residents who decorated non-motorized vehicles with plants to be judged for prizes in various categories.
Weaver, who brought her great-nieces along with her, decorated her 1959 Jim Dandy Surrey pedal car with orchids and hostas.
“These are all hostas from my garden,” she said, proudly pointing to her pedal car. “Picked this morning.”
Baby carriages, bicycles and wagons covered in floral arrangements were highlights of the promenade.
Four young girls from California, who spend their summers in Saratoga Springs, turned a bicycle into a horse made out of flowers for their entry. They used real horse hair for the mane and pink and brown tissue paper flowers for the body, and one of the girls dressed up as a jockey.
“We are all horse crazy, so we immediately wanted to do something with horses,” Olivia Harmon, 12, said. “And since it is a flower parade, we thought a horse made out of flowers.”
Maureen Blaun, from Malta, had her two 3-year-old girls in the promenade. They wore princess-pink dresses and rode in a wagon covered in pastel flowers.
“It is historic,” Blaun said. “It is so cool. This may not happen again. … I thought it would be a lot of fun to be a part of. Someday they will be able to say ‘I was a part of the Floral Fete.’ ”
After the promenade down Broadway, paradegoers made their way to Congress Park, where Whitney and Hendrickson hosted a free ice cream social with Stewart’s ice cream, Saratoga Water and Freihofer’s chocolate chip cookies.
Megan Chivers, 9, waited in a line a few hundred people deep for the free ice cream.
“Long line,” she said, laughing, as thousands continued to swarm the park.
Dawn Chivers, Megan’s mother, said although the lines were long, the event was great.
“I think it is a really nice thing,” she said. “You know, I am hoping they will do it again next year — I am hoping it is not a once-in-a-hundred-and-fifty-years event.”
More entertainment during the night included clowns, balloon animals, carousel rides, Skip Parsons’ Riverboat Jazz Band and period-costumed women from the Victorian Social Club walking around.
The night ended with a birthday cake for the anniversary and the singing of “Happy Birthday” to Saratoga racing.
“This doesn’t happen in my normal racing world,” Durkin said. “There is this sense of civic pride here … it is great to be a part of Saratoga.”
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