The first real snow of the season began to fall Saturday as the sidewalks along lower State Street filled.
Families scouted out spots and then settled into them with canvas folding chairs, blankets, containers of hot cocoa and hoods pulled way up. Men pushed carts full of colorful balloons up and down the road.
The Stockade Market & Deli buzzed with freezing paradegoers trying to warm up with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. At least every few steps, a child stared up at the white sky with their mouth open, hoping to catch a few fat snowflakes.
“I wish they tasted like Parmesan cheese,” said one girl trying to catch snowflakes with her tongue as her mother opened a box of hot pizza nearby.
Minutes later, people erupted into cheers at the first sure sign of a parade about to commence — the long, reverberating blow of a fire engine horn. With a blustery snow squall following it every step of the way, the 46th annual Gazette Holiday Parade plowed through downtown Schenectady with all of the sights the community has come to expect: elaborate floats, marching bands, dance troupes and fire trucks galore.
The theme this year was the Roaring Twenties, and participants delivered. Girls wore flapper dresses under fur coats, with feather boas and headbands, strings of pearls and flashy brooches. Guys showed up in pinstripes, suspenders and bowlers, top hats, fedoras or newsboy caps.
Floats rumbled by playing jazz music over staticky radios. A local heating, ventilation and air conditioning business towed a clunky metal heating pipe from the 1920s. State police drove by in a vintage 1920s patrol car.
Babe Ruth — well, an actor portraying the Sultan of Swat — swung a bat in the back of a Home Depot truck. Little fingers waved out the windows of a 1920s trolley built by volunteers and the kids at Central Park International Magnet School.
The Schalmont Marching Sabres mixed new and old: The color guard wore flapper headbands and bright green feather boas, while the band played a hit single by the indie pop band fun.
“You are looking at Charles Lindbergh’s famous Spirit of St. Louis,” said Chris Henry, a warden at St. George’s Episcopal Church, before the parade kicked off Saturday evening.
The float he stood next to carried a single-engine, wooden monoplane painted silver and with a ceiling fan attached to its nose to resemble a propeller. A smoke machine blew artificial exhaust out from the plane.
Henry and a group of people from the Schenectady church worked nights and weekends on the float for the past two months. Their goal was to tell the story of Lindbergh’s historic nonstop flight from New York to Paris in 1927.
“Over there is New York,” said Henry, pointing to a woman in a Statue of Liberty costume.
“And over there is Paris,” he said, waving an arm at a man in a beret and gray and black striped shirt.
Henry was dressed as Lindbergh, in a brown leather jacket, scarf, vintage pilot cap and goggles.
“This is only our second year in the parade,” he said, “but last year, I believe we won first prize for our ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ Jolly Roger ship, so we hope to do it again.”
Ellis Medicine staff built a 1920s ambulance for its float this year. But the task was hardly daunting to the float committee, which has churned out elaborate sets since the parade got its start.
“We did a crystal ball last year,” said Lynne Guarneri, an office manager at Ellis. “We did a hospital room with a patient and a bed once. We did a huge white Christmas tree with big, gigantic presents underneath once. One time we did a replica of the original hospital on Jay Street.”
In addition to the Roaring Twenties theme, this year’s parade had an extra bit of history to flaunt as it made its way up State Street. The parade’s founders — Ed Lewi and Joe Dalton — served as grand marshals. They first came up with the idea for the parade in 1968, when the Schenectady Downtown Merchants Bureau was trying to brainstorm ideas to promote downtown businesses for the upcoming holiday season.
Decades later, the parade attracts 20,000 to 40,000 spectators each year, depending on the weather. But even with a hearty snowfall like Saturday’s, some spectators say they wouldn’t miss it for anything.
“Every year,” said Tina Cook, pulling a hat down on her head as wind whipped snow in her face. “Every year, we come out here. And it’s always the whole family: mom, dad, daughters, grandchildren. We wear thermals, we bring chairs, blankets, hats, cocoa. We don’t mind the snow.”
Her father, Ron Dzikowski, said their group decided on a new spot this year to camp out for the parade. Usually, they wait it out across from the Department of Motor Vehicles office, but Saturday, their group was stationed just a block from the start of the parade, at Schenectady County Community College.
“This way, we’re the first ones to see the end of the parade and the first ones to get out. Plus, if the kids have to use the restroom, and they always do, there’s one right over there,” he said, gesturing toward the Stockade Market & Deli.