Ragamuffin Parade will celebrate 50 years of Bay Ridge history

What began in 1967 as a way for Bay Ridge to celebrate the youth of the community is now in it’s 50th year as an Southwest Brooklyn tradition.

This year’s annual Ragamuffin Parade will take place on Saturday, October 1st at 1 p.m., and of course feature thousands of costumed children marching down Third Avenue, but the parade wasn’t always this popular.

The first Ragamuffin Parade technically took place in October of 1966, when Father James McKenna of Our Lady of Angels and several parishioners involved in the church’s youth activities decided to hold a youth event reserved for the children of the parish. According to Ted General, Public Relations Director of the Ragamuffin Parade Committee, the parishioners put together a mini-parade of sorts beginning at 73rd Street and Fourth Avenue and gave out prizes to the children, who were dressed in their parents’ over-sized clothing.

“Evidently, the parade was popular and they had a subsequent meeting, deciding to do a community-wide parade complete with a grand marshal, bands, etc.,” said General. “In the first parade they held in 1967, they got synagogues, businesses and merchants involved.”

Photo courtesy of Marianne Fezza
Photo courtesy of Marianne Fezza

General added that “the term ‘ragamuffin’ came about years ago, when kids would dress up in ragtag outfits and go door to door around Thanksgiving time.”

An Op-Ed  that appeared in this paper’s Friday, November 24, 1967 edition read, “Intelligently planned, the parade wound through Bay Ridge ending up at OLA Auditorium where amiable Father James McKenna regaled a packed house, the little ones awaiting the awarding of prizes, which were numerous and worthwhile.”

The Op-Ed went on to say, “We think Bay Ridge should have a Ragamuffin Parade EVERY YEAR,” and urged our readers to, “contact Father McKenna and volunteer your aid in planning or supporting next year’s extravaganza.”

The parade’s first Grand Marshal was Louis Sternbach, the owner of a furniture store on 86th Street. In 1968, Father McKenna was invited to serve as Grand Marshal. As the parade snowballed in popularity over the years, it has been able to boast many prominent Grand Marshals, including:

  • Former Mayor Ed Koch (1978)
  • Romper Room’s Molly McCloskey-Barber (1982)
  • Gene Romano, General Manager of Nelly Bly (1983)
  • Hank Vogt, founder of Bravo Volunteer Ambulance Services (1988)
  • Colonel James Bigelow (1989)
  • Now-State Senator Marty Golden (1992)
  • Mary Ann Walsh (2015)

Although financial difficulties forced the parade to not be held in 1974, it was revitalized after organizers received funding from a member of The Merchants of Third Avenue. Since then, the parade has never missed a year.

“If you Google it now you’ll see their are similar parades out in New jersey, Long Island, etc. Since the parade was unique to Southwest Brooklyn, it got a lot of coverage and a lot of cities and towns copied it,” said General. “It was not patriotic, ethnic, or for veterans, it was devoted to children. It was the first time in the city that a parade was dedicated to youth.”

After five decades of fun, the parade is getting even more recognition. On Saturday, September 17 at 11a.m., Third Avenue and 74th Street will be renamed Ragamuffin Way in order to commemorate where the parade began 50 years ago. Additionally, the parade committee will host a commemorative gala dinner at the Bay Ridge Manor on September 24 in place of it’s usual pre-parade fundraising luncheon.

We will be honoring the beloved Bay Ridge institution with a commemorative special section, and we would love to see your pictures and memories of the prized parade.

Send your photos and anecdotes to editorial@brooklynreporter.com for a chance to see them in the paper or on our website!

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