Miss Preakness, Susan Rosenberg, waves to bystanders while a miniature jockey follows suit as the 1977 Preakness Parade travels along Howard Street past the Howard Theatre. (Weyman Swagger, Baltimore Sun photo, May 16, 1977)
The Preakness may be going strong, but the Preakness Parade? Not so much.
For more than three decades, beginning in 1973, Baltimore marked its annual contribution to the proud history of horse racing with a parade, filled with floats and bands, beauty queens and helium-filled balloons, and usually a giant horseshoe or two. It was a grand affair; as late as the mid-2000s, the giant balloons made Baltimore look like something you’d see in New York on Thanksgiving morning.
A giant Felix the Cat prepares for the 1997 Preakness Parade. (Chiaki Kawajiiri, Baltimore Sun photo, May 10, 1997)
In the 1970s, the parade would proceed down Howard Street, in front of a row of grand old movie theaters and proud department stores (all of them, save for the Hippodrome, long gone now). Miss Preakness could generally be found on one of the cars, waving delightedly at her many fans.
A photo from 1989 shows giant balloons being prepared for the long march from the staging area on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
In 2005, the parade was staged in conjunction with the grand opening of the Sports Legends at Camden Yards museum; many sports figures – including Julia Ruth Stevens, the 87-year-old daughter of Babe Ruth – participated.
Balloons are inflated before the 1989 Preakness Parade. (Paul Hutchins, Baltimore Sun photo, May 19, 1989)
In 2009, the parade was moved from the Saturday before the Preakness to the night before; an estimated crowd of 25,000-30,000 watched along Pratt Street as Baltimore literally glowed with Preakness pride (one of the requirements for the parade was that everything had to be lit).
But there had been rumblings that the parade’s future might be in jeopardy. It had been canceled in 1993, when no corporate sponsor could be found; civic leaders in Anne Arundel County began talking about moving the parade there and having it march along Ritchie Highway. It was nearly canceled again in 2010, after Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake decided the city could no longer afford it; MI Developments, the parent company of Magna Entertainment Corp., stepped in at the last minute and agreed to pick up the tab.
The Baltimore Westsiders Marching Band makes its way down Pratt Street in the 29th Preakness Parade. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun photo, May 11, 2002)
Unfortunately, the city’s budget problems haven’t improved, and similar examples of corporate largesse have not turned up in recent years.
Sadly, there will be no Preakness Parade again this year (unless you count the parade of horses heading to the starting line at Pimlico on Saturday). With some luck, maybe it won’t be gone forever…