For more than two hours yesterday, the colors and festive sounds of the annual St. Patrick's Day parade captured the attention and imagination of an estimated 125,000 people along Constitution Avenue. For many, the glad feeling was stirred as much by the apparent arrival of spring as by St. Patrick.
Hundreds of people, shedding winter coats and folding them for cushions, sat along the curbs and in barricaded intersections cheering on the marchers. Sun bathers sprawled on patches of grass, soaking in the sunshine and warm breezes. The high yesterday at 3 p.m. was 63 degrees.
Colleen Kelly of Takoma Park and her sister-in-law, Caroline Kelly from Silver Spring, were among the many who reveled in the wearin' o' the green. Each woman wore a green carnation in her hair and a green shamrock painted on one cheek.
"Of course I'm Irish," Colleen Kelly said, shyly looking at her sister-in-law for support. "We have living relatives in Ireland and I spent my honeymoon there."
About a block away, Linda Weaver ("I'm fourth generation Irish") bounced in step to the music of a millitary band passing her way.
"I came just for the parade," said Weaver, a Rockville resident. "I've been looking forward to this."
"It's such a pretty day, I just couldn't stay inside," said Darlene Robinson, who with her husband, Carter, drove 45 minutes from Manassas to join the celebration. They sat at the curb sipping green gin and tonics that Carter called Louisiana swamp water.
"I had spring fever three weeks ago," Carter Robinson said between sips. "You have a tendency to wear shorts and short sleeve Izods in weather like this."
"Until it snows again," his wife said, shrugging.
By the time Thomas Phelan tucked the old violin under his chin and began playing "When Irish Eyes are Smiling," thousands of people, Irish or not, already had picked up the good cheer.
Sara Sullivan, 4 years old, bouncing on Bill Berry's shoulders, squealed and waved her tiny fingers at Smokey the Bear as he danced around the curb and shook hands, delighting many other children.
It was Sara's first St. Patrick's Day parade, said Marvene Sullivan, a Washington resident.
In high stepping precision, marching units from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines joined the entertainment. Air Force Capt. Jeffery Bircher, his upright saber gleaming in the sun, led a contingent of the Air Force honor guard, all spit and polish, before the reviewing stand.
They were followed by antique cars, majorettes and horsemen from Bowie riding clubs, attempting to control their high-strung mounts skittish in the excitement.
Long lines of people waiting for hot dogs and cool drinks wound around corners as street vendors called their wares: shamrock balloons, blow-up frogs that read, "Kiss me." There were buttons everywhere, some reading 'Kiss me, I'm Irish," "Irish Power," and "I'm a member of the Irish Bar."
It was a big day for balloon vendor Thomas Godley. "Last year the weather (38 degrees) killed us," Godley said, filling up a frog balloon with helium. "People came to the parade and left after 15 minutes. This year, you can see the business."
Colorful kites, some triangle-shaped, some boxlike and some in snake forms, dotted the sky as parents and children took advantage of the breeze for a family outing.
Terry Fitzgerald of Hillcrest Heights said she had been promising her 7-year-old-son Tommy, "all winter" to come to the monument to fly a kite.
"I kept saying, 'as soon as the weather warms up,' and now it has," Fitzgerald said. "But we've been fooled so many times, when the weather turns cool."
A few yards away, Tawanda Garner 8, and her 10-year-old sister, Shonda, joined Solomon Mason, Candy Chandler and Cinetra Garner for a race down the Monument hill. Instead of running, they rolled, laughing all the way.
Joggers sporting new running shoes, shorts, and untanned legs, and cyclists weaved throughout the throng.
D.C. resident Fred Griffin, just out for a bike ride, was one who seized the chance to get a jump on a summer tan by sprawling in the grass. "I didn't even know there was a parade," he said. "I came out because it was a nice day."