Dave Richards for February 5th….…………
--With the Super Bowl behind us, it’s full speed ahead to Valentine’s Day and, in Woonsocket……..Mardi Gras!
Yes, those fun-loving folks at the Northern Rhode Island Council of the Arts are at it again with Woonsocket’s version of New Orleans’ (a.k.a Party City U.S.A.) winter festival. We have a few comments to make about Woonsocket’s Mardi Gras history, but before that, let’s look at the 2020 edition. Here are the facts, directly from the script of the radio announcements heard on all Woonsocket frequencies.
“Do You Know King Jace?
King Jace the 26th, the Mysterious Monarch of The Woonsocket Mardi Gras is a man from the area who is well known. Here's are the clues to the King's true identity.
King Jace XXVI Clues
1. 2 degrees separate him from others.
2. Is Woonsocket born and raised.
3. Is a cruiser who loves opera.
4. Is impatient with impatient people.
5. Supports those who support their community.
6. Hates seafood, loves the big apple.
7. Loves it when he and ‘things’ work out.
8. Serves those he works with.
9. Will someday return to Paris.
10. Not used to this much hair.
If you think you know the name of the man playing King Jace, place a dollar in an official King Jace Quest envelope, available at both Woonsocket radio stations, and The Woonsocket Call newspaper offices on Main Street.
King Jace will be unmasked by the Queen of the Mardi Gras right after she is crowned at Savini's Pomadoro Restaurant on Sunday February 16th.
After the unmasking, a drawing will be held from all correct guesses and the winner will receive 2 free tickets to the Mardi Gras Ball on the following Saturday, February 22nd, at the St. Ann Arts and Cultural Center Hall. Tickets for the Coronation, Unmasking and Ball are available by calling Lorraine Cloutier at 762-9072 or from any Mardi Gras Queen contestant.
Do you know King Jace?”
--Public Service Announcement over. Now a few words on how Mardi Gras has changed over the years.
In 1954, the Woonsocket Jaycees thought it would be a great idea to put on a Mardi Gras celebration here. After all, at that time there were more French-speaking people per capita in Woonsocket than any other city in North America. The first year it was a wonderful, fun time. But the second year, 1955, was completely ‘over-the-top’ and out of control.
Now, if you’re working your tail off to have a great event it is hard to believe there could be a down-side to it being a great success. But, as the Jaycees of 1955 learned, there is a down-side.
Reading from newspaper coverage in the February 17, 1955 edition of The Call, not only were the various events well attended, but several had to be broadcast over our local radio station because venues were at full capacity and more people still wanted to attend. Now that is a good definition of success for sure, but then………….
Four days later, as Woonsocket’s Mardi Gras wrapped up it is reported in The Call that more than 150,000 people watched the half-mile Mardi-Gras parade. Yes, you are correct, it is virtually impossible to fit that many people into a half-mile stretch of downtown Woonsocket. They were on top of buildings, hanging out of windows, clinging to fire escapes, and using any vantage point to see the parade, which was a ‘hum-dinger’ by all accounts. But there was a ‘story behind the story’.
A similar number of people never saw the parade because they were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on all roads leading into the city. Woonsocket’s police force (of 36 members in 1955) was augmented by civilian auxiliary members within the city, but pandemonium was developing in the outskirts. The Rhode Island State Police were called and dispatched from the Lincoln barracks to assist. But the “Staties” couldn’t get to Woonsocket due to the miles of traffic jams and were forced to drive north to Woonsocket in the southbound lanes of Louisquisset Pike (Rt. 146) to reach their deliver their assistance.
Additional help was even requested from the Civil Air Patrol, whose airborne members reported the automobile grid-lock extended more than 8 miles out from the city.
Reading the actual accounts reported at the time in the local newspaper clearly give one a sense of utter…………….WOW.
The explanation for this huge problem was simply that February 21, 1955 was an abnormally warm and nice weather day with a high temperature around 50 degrees. The weather was so nice that on that day over 300,000 people thought it would be a lovely day to take in a parade.
In subsequent years, normally cold weather for the month put an end to the reveling until the Centennial Committee brought it back in 1988 with native son Noel Pincince serving as King Jace. Noel will be at this year’s ball, greeting attendees, by the way.
It’s funny how when we reminisce about “The Good Old Days” we forget what they were “really” like, isn’t it? So, to those who say……..”it ain’t like it used to be”…….I say…GOOD!
--That's what I think. What do you think? Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org or postal mail to Dave Richards, WOON Radio, 985 Park Avenue, Woonsocket, RI 02895-6332. Thanks for reading.