The District couldn’t have asked for a better day to put on a show for a nationwide audience.
For the first time in its history, the National Cherry Blossom Festival parade was filmed Saturday for syndication to a national television audience, and tens of thousands of spectators basked in 70-degree warmth and sunshine for the celebration.
Marching bands, acrobats, giant balloons, horses and performers dressed in kimonos marched down Constitution Avenue NW as game show host Alex Trebek and Katie Couric anchored the coverage, to be aired at a later date.
The biggest hits this year appeared to be a two-story Miss Piggy balloon as well as the Marine Corps marching band and marching platoon.
The Indianapolis Police Department Motorcycle Drill Team also dazzled spectators as the bikes weaved in and out of formation while some officers stood on the bikes for nearly the length of a city block.
Meanwhile, a choir of about 500 youths sang as they marched along the route. And a jump-rope squad, the Kings Firecrackers from Kings Mill, Ohio, worked up a sweat as they showed off their athletic abilities.
Deborah Peake, 61, said she hadn’t been to the parade in a decade or two but decided to bring her four grandchildren and her husband on Saturday because of the warm-weather forecast.
“I’ve been waiting to come back every year, but the weather today, it’s just a lovely day, so I decided to bring them down,” said Peake, who lives in Temple Hills. “A parade, and a circus, is the most important thing America has to offer. These two things bring families together and they never forget, especially the children.”
Monday marks Emancipation Day, a city holiday to commemorate the freeing of 3,100 slaves in the District in 1862. This year is its 150th anniversary, and several events were held over the weekend leading up to Monday’s parade down Pennsylvania Avenue and street festival.
A small crowd gathered Saturday at the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum. They heard speeches celebrating the freeing of the slaves, Harriet Tubman and black soldiers who fought in the Union army.
The celebration ended with Civil War reenactors placing a wreath at the Civil War memorial at U Street and Vermont Avenue NW. Frank Smith, executive director of the African American Civil War Museum, led the crowd in reading the names of slaves freed by the D.C. Emancipation Act.
“These were men, women and children,” Smith said. “We were calling out their spirits to thank them for being faithful and true and to let them know we are still carrying on their tradition.”
At the Cherry Blossom parade, police reported no major incidents, despite the crowds.
But spectators had to endure some minor annoyances, including large gaps to allow for television commercial breaks. Also, a police helicopter buzzed low to the ground at times, evidence of the tight security.
Teresa Cecchini, 27, traveled to the District from Corning, N.Y., to watch her niece perform with Corning’s West High School marching band.
“She likes the music and the horses the best,” Cecchini said, referring to her 17-month-old daughter.
But after the cherry blossoms bloomed unusually early this year because of the mild winter and spring, some spectators were disappointed that they didn’t see more flowers in the parade or on the Mall.
“We were expecting more,” said Lisa Chandra, 35, who traveled with her family from Philadelphia.
“I was expecting flowers.”
Staff writer Paul Schwartzman contributed to this report.