Washington basked yesterday in the never-failing glow of a dazzling three-hour parade down Pennsylvania Avenue that featured such line-of-march staples as marching bands, drill teams and festively colored floats.
It was all there by courtesy of the Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World, a black service organization that has gathered here for its 83rd annual convention.
Police closed the avenue to vehicles from Fourth to 14th streets and the parade caused only minor traffic disruptions in the downtown area.
At times it was hard to tell where the crowd stopped and the parade began. Many spectators, themselves Elks, were dressed in glistening white uniforms set off by purple patches, gold stripes, silver stars and Turkish-style fezes with muticolored tassels.
Police estimated the crowd in the hundreds, but hundreds more watched from the windows of air conditioned office buildings that line the route, and thousands were lured into the sweltering heat and humidity during their lunch hour by the sounds of drums and music echoing down the nation's ceremonial avenue.
More than 5,000 Elks participated in the parade, with delegations from every state in the continental U.S., as well as from Canada, the Bahamas and Panama, according to Clyde Jordan, 52, a spokesman from East St. Louis, Ill., who has been a member of the Elks for 23 years. More than 20,000 members, their families and friends are in town to attend the week-long international convention, which ends Friday.
The performances in the parade were as varied as the states from which the the units hailed.
The West Virginia delegation waved from high atop a fire engine, energizing the siren occasionally to make sure they were noticed. Tap dancers from Toledo, Ohio -- the state where IBPOE was founded in 1898 -- amazed the crowd with their fast, furious steps. The Flash Club, a group from the Elks Columbia Lodge here in the District, smiled and waved at friends from their perch inside the Georgetown Trolley.
The Orchettes, a spirited girls drill team from Freehold, N.J., marched and chanted in unison, summing up the feelings of everyone at the event: "I feel all right! We're having a good time!"