Alexandria held the largest small-town parade in its history this week, when an estimated 50,000 persons squeezed along narrow Old Town sidewalks to see marching band, costumed militia, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Elizabeth Taylor.
Many in the crowd thought they saw Taylor inside one of the horse-drawn carriages, and other thought they missed her, but the master of ceremonies told crowds around the reviewing stand that the well-known actress was in California and unable to attend.
Her husband, John Warner, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Virginia, was there, however, bouncing atop a tallyho, horse-drawn coach before alighting at the reviewing stand.
The annual parade, open to any group that wished to march a mile in freezing temperatures, apparently was the second longest since the annual parade began in February 1798, when Revoluntionary War dragoons galloped down to Mount Vernon and brought George Washington back to stand on the steps of Gadsby's Tavern and review the troops, according to retired Army Col. William Glasgow Jr., parade master of ceremonies for the past four years.
The single longest parade was in 1932, the bicentennial of Washington's birth and the opening of the city's huge George Washington Masonic National Memorial and the George Washington Memorial Parkway to Mount Vernon. The 1932 parade took five hours and reputedly had more participants than the city had residents; Alexandria's population was then about 29,000.
The 95 units in this week's parade included high school and military marching band, bagpipes and fife and drum corps, musket and cannon-firing troopes, horses and ponies, and just about every other Alexandria school or social group whose members could walk and didn't mind the cold.
"I don't think it mattered that Elizabeth Taylor wasn't in it . . . though many people thought she was, told me they saw her in the carriage John Warner rode on," said Glasgow. "But that wasn't Liz Taylor, that was Teddy Francis in colonial costume. She has dark hair like Liz's and she carried the banquet and ball."
The actress agreed last year to ride in the parade in costume and play Martha Washington, but that fell through after a City Council member said it would be political because Warner is now running for office, Glasgow said.
"John Warner wasn't running for office when she agreed to do this. And that would have added to the parade. I've only met her a few times and she is a great gal, nothing snobbish or grandiose about her. But it doesn't matter. I don't think people really cared. It was a good parade anyway," he said.
The parade was just one of many events the city mounted to honor its favorite son - while Washington lived at Mount Vernon he had a town house in Alexandria and called the city his "hometown."
There were new and old home tours, the annual birth night ball (also dating to 1798 when the Washingtons were feted at Gadsby's), held Saturday night at the Belle Haven Country Club just south of the city, and the quiet, annual wreath laying at the Washington tomb at Mount Vernon. A mock Revolutionary War battle was staged Sunday at Ford Ward, the city's Civil War fort and was attended by more than 6,000 persons.