This week, we look back on Anniversary Day celebrations of yesteryear in Ridgewood, now a lost rite of summer.
Children from local Protestant churches — and, in later years, from area Catholic schools — looked forward every year to the first Thursday of June. It wasn’t just a mere part of the annual countdown to summer vacation. Rather, it was a day of music and fun while promoting their faith through local streets, riding on colorful floats and singing or performing hymns on instruments to the cheers of onlookers.
Ridgewood’s parade was always special and, for a time, celebrated by tens of thousands. The New York Times reported on June 5, 1959, that 25,000 participated in Queens, but that was just a fraction of the 150,000 who participated in the Brooklyn Sunday School Union march across the border.
The first-ever Anniversary Day parade in Ridgewood took place on June 6, 1929, under the sponsorship of the Ridgewood Sunday School Union. It started in two points: on the east at the corner of Van Cortland (now 71st) Avenue and Fresh Pond Road, and on the west at Putnam and Onderdonk avenues. The divisions marched through local streets and met at the corner of Fresh Pond Road and Catalpa Avenue before turning back to their local churches.
Among the congregations that participated in the 1929 march were Ridgewood Presbyterian, St. John’s Evangelical Bible (now Methodist), Lutheran Church of the Covenant Glendale Methodist Episcopal, First German Baptist, Glendale Evangelical, Glendale Baptist and the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. Church members carried flags and banners representing their congregation and wore sashes labeled with that year’s parade theme, such as “Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace” or “Though Many, We Are One in Christ.”
Throughout the years, parishioners at each church would decorate floats, using brightlycolored streamers, that adults would pull and children would ride. Musicians would play hymns such as “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” and the “Hymn of Joy” on recorders, glockenspiels, drums and other instruments — sometimes aided by sheet music written on the back of floats ahead of them.
Once the fun was over, the children would return to their local churches for lunches that generally included hot dogs, ice cream and cake.
As the years went on, however, the congregations dwindled — as did participation in the Ridgewood Anniversary Day parade. The 100th Anniversary Day march in 2009 was relegated to a portion of Catalpa Avenue between Onderdonk Avenue and Fresh Pond Road and attended by only a few hundred.
The 2009 parade turned out to be the last of its kind. The Ridgewood Sunday School Association canceled the 2010 march due to declining interest and reductions that year in police coverage at public events.
“We did it for 100 years. We were happy to get to that point,” Wayne Vandermark, president of the association, told the Ridgewood Times in a May 20, 2010 article. He noted that the association would consider alternatives for another celebration the following year, but it never materialized.
Even so, for those lucky enough to have participated and enjoyed those parades, they are left with memories and good feelings that will remain with them forever.
Reprinted from the June 11, 2015 issue of the Ridgewood Times.
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