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Ragamuffin: A parade for the generations

Each year, a special day celebrated by families all over Bay Ridge and Brooklyn takes Third Avenue by storm as swarms of ornately costumed children march – sometimes alongside their costumed parents – in the annual Ragamuffin parade. It’s a tradition that families like Dawn Barry Hansen’s hold dear in hopes of passing the torch (and possibly even the coveted first place bicycle) to their children and beyond.

“I love that this community just embraces this [parade] all the time because this community embraces its children,” said Hansen, a lifelong Ridgeite who went from marching in the parade herself to preparing her children for it and after that her granddaughter. “Marching with my children and making the costumes and seeing their faces is really my favorite part.”

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the parade started as a way for Bay Ridge to celebrate the youth of the community after Father James McKenna of Our Lady of Angels and Ridgeite Cliff Scanlon decided to round up neighborhood children and put on a parade with the kids dressed in their parents’ oversized clothes, just for the fun of it. Now, thousands of smiling, costumed children march along Third Avenue every year, still very much for the fun of it.

“It’s very important for the children and it is a wonderful thing,” Hansen said. “People come out just to watch and it’s a tradition – from my mother making costumes to me making costumes and then my daughter making costumes, so it’s wonderful.”

An experienced – and awarded – Ragamuffin costume designer, as her son Kenneth won first place for his Headless Horseman costume in 1980 and her other son David won for his Peter Pan costume in 1987, Hansen, who also created a winning Sesame Street costume for daughter Jennifer, is now helping with her granddaughter Mackenzie’s costumes.

“Many years went by and now Jennifer has a daughter, Mackenzie,” Hansen said. “In true Hansen family tradition, we go all out in making costumes for Mackenzie to march in the parade.  One year she was Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Her mom and dad dressed up in that theme too.  Another year she was Pocahontas in a canoe and then she was Vanellope von Schweetz in her candy car.

“This past year she had the best time ever though,” she continued. “She was Agnes sitting on top of a Minion. The costume was fantastic and when she got to the end of the parade, she was thrilled to be told that she had won a bicycle.”

Crediting her love of Ragamuffin and the community in general to her mother Maureen Barry, Hansen spoke about how lucky she felt to be a part of Bay Ridge.

“My mother was very involved in the St. Patrick’s Drama Society and ultimately one of the founders of Narrows Community Theater,” she said. “My family loved dressing up and celebrating. We’re just grateful that it is here in our neighborhood and I think it’s great that we keep such wonderful things happening for our children.”

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