On the eve of the 150th anniversary of horse racing in Saratoga Springs, the streets of downtown were swarming with people for the Floral Fete Promenade and thousands piled into Congress Park — crowds larger than almost anyone had anticipated.
Friday night’s event, which was a Saratoga 150 gift to the community from socialite Marylou Whitney and husband John Hendrickson, drew an estimated 40,000 people, Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen said.
“I have lived in Saratoga all of my life,” he said. “And it was the most highly attended event I have ever seen.”
A free ice cream social from Stewart’s Shops, a horse-drawn carriage promenade, carousel rides, live music, clowns and balloon art were just some of the event attractions.
While people hoped for a large turnout, few other than Maureen Lewi anticipated the enormous numbers.
Lewi co-chaired the Floral Fete and was instrumental at every stage of preparation.
“In my heart, all along, I knew it was going to be a record breaker,” she said. “I was probably one of the very few people not surprised.”
Ed Lewi, Maureen’s husband and a Saratoga 150 committee member, said he thought the weather and the planning for the event were factors contributing to the large turnout.
“As far as I am concerned, it is one of the better events in Saratoga for a long time. I thought it was excellent. Real community spirit,” he said. “I knew it was well thought-out because Maureen has been working on it for over a year.”
Todd Shimkus, the president of the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce, agreed.
“I actually had fairly big expectations,” he said. “Because it was free, because it was open to the public … everyone loves a parade.”
Even so, Shimkus said the event was more than he could have ever imagined.
“We marched all of those incredible carriages, the cars and all of the kids, in under 30 minutes and then had a big party in the park … it was awesome,” he said. “The city itself also deserves an enormous thank you, because not every city would want to … bend over backwards like this city did.”
Harvey Fox, who has owned and operated N. Fox Jewelers at the same location in downtown Saratoga Springs since 1977, was thrilled by the crowd turnout and said he had no idea the event would be of the magnitude it was.
“I am a native. I was born in Saratoga Springs,” he said. “It is the largest crowd I have ever seen in downtown Saratoga Springs.”
Fox, still reliving the events of the night, said he and his wife walked down Broadway and could not believe what they were seeing.
“We walked through a sea of people. It was exciting,” he said. “The parade was fantastic … it was amazing. The floral decorations — the flowers.”
Fox’s father, who just turned 94, was not able to attend the parade, but when Fox told him how many people came out for the celebration, he was thrilled. Fox said his father remembers when Saratoga was not doing well in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.
“He was so impressed,” Fox said. “It makes him extremely happy to hear how downtown is doing.”
Shimkus said the event is surely not one anyone will forget anytime soon. And he hopes 50 years from now, the children who promenaded down Broadway in the Floral Fete will remember the experience they had and help re-create that experience for the Saratoga 200.
“I think this is one of those things people are going to be talking about for quite some time in the community,” he said.