Thousands of people used to come to Mike Iacobucci’s summer parties.
Adults came for the Italian and German food, the softball games, the musicians and dancers. Kids looked forward to pony rides, sky divers and the giant fireworks show at dusk.
Tuesday will never be the same for longtime Schenectady resident Iacobucci — he’ll always remember the “Tuesday in the Park” gatherings in Central Park.
Most of the time, the city’s biggest show of the summer was held on the first Tuesday of August and coincided with the “National Night Out” crime-prevention campaign.
“When the kids got to see the fireworks and their eyes lit up, that was my pay — to see these kids enjoy it,” said Iacobucci, who founded the festival in 1983. Merchants from all over the city worked to promote the afternoon and evening out. By the mid-1990s, more than 50,000 people from all over the area were in town for “Tuesday.”
Iacobucci, a former county legislator and the longtime proprietor of the former Mike’s Pizza Adobe at State and Willow streets, loved the reactions he used to get from people at the party. “Like the guy who said he hadn’t talked to his neighbor in 15 years and said ‘I met him here and talked to him,’ ” Iacobucci said.
The real idea was to get people into the park.
“The park was something that wasn’t being used at the time,” Iacobucci said. “It’s a diamond in the rough and people were not using it. It was about getting people to come out of their houses for the night and enjoy it. And they did.”
He remembers the softball games. One game would match the merchants against city employees; the second game was the usual, sort-of-friendly grudge match between the Schenectady police and fire departments.
Local music journalist Don Wilcock signed up the musicians.
“It was an extreme challenge to me because we had no budget at all and yet we had to fill time from 1 o’clock in the afternoon until the fireworks at 9:30,” Wilcock said.
“I think the most exciting one was the year we had Time Warner involved and the Schenectady Symphony. And the Schenectady Symphony did the 1812 Overture and we had a sound system throughout Central Park and we had more than 50,000 people listening to the 1812 Overture. We didn’t have 21 guns; I think we had a three-gun salute. And as the Overture was finishing, the fireworks went off.”
Wilcock said the goal was to get the best local acts on Central Park stages. “These guys did it for nothing, for years,” he said. Ernie Williams and the Wildcats played the picnic. So did Jeannie French. “She had several bands, but she was probably the most dynamic local act we had on that stage,” Wilcock said. “Blue Jeanne Blue was the name of her band.”
Many of the “Tuesdays” raised cash for the community. Beneficiaries included the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Hospice, Proctors, Neighborhood Watch and Schenectady Inner City Ministry.
The last night out was held in 2003. By then, the city of Schenectady was a financial partner, and public safety costs had become an issue. Brian U. Stratton, then city mayor, also worried that the event had strayed from its original family-oriented premise and was now an event with a “carnival atmosphere.” The 2004 “Tuesday” never took place.
Iacobucci would love to see fried dough, bagpipers, tap dancers, hot air balloons and chicken barbecues back in the park during early August. “It all depends on the administration,” he said.