2011-06-02 / Front Page

Parade Keeps Families Coming Back

Mackinaw City Memorial Day Weekend Parade, Pageant
By Ted Booker


A parade and a historical pageant have become crowd favorites to celebrate Memorial Day weekend in Mackinaw City. Here, a circle of reenactors chants, dressed in authentic French attire during the pageant at Fort Michilimackinac Saturday, May 28. The French voyageurs, who ruled the fort during the early 18th century, would later surrender to the British, which was depicted during the presentation. A parade and a historical pageant have become crowd favorites to celebrate Memorial Day weekend in Mackinaw City. Here, a circle of reenactors chants, dressed in authentic French attire during the pageant at Fort Michilimackinac Saturday, May 28. The French voyageurs, who ruled the fort during the early 18th century, would later surrender to the British, which was depicted during the presentation. It’s hard to put a finger on, but something distinctive about the Memorial Day Parade in Mackinaw City keeps people coming back year after year, decade after decade, from all over the state.

Maybe it’s because the parade— which features a cast of bands, veterans groups, clowns, and floats—reminds people what it means to be American with its own small-town flavor. Jo Seamon of Curtis, who sits in a lawn chair next to her friend from Harbor Springs watching the parade Saturday, May 28, says the atmosphere kindles a spirit of patriotism.


Kathy Goodman of Indian River (center) has brought her son, Austin, and daughter, Ashley, to the Mackinaw City parade since they were young children. Also pictured is her mother, Martha Bielski of Burt Lake. Kathy Goodman of Indian River (center) has brought her son, Austin, and daughter, Ashley, to the Mackinaw City parade since they were young children. Also pictured is her mother, Martha Bielski of Burt Lake. “This is a perfect example of Americana, in my opinion,” she said, pointing to the throngs of people clustered in lawn chairs on the side of the road ranging from infants in baby carriages with miniature American flags to senior citizens, some of them veterans. The blare of trumpets from a band that just passed by is still resonant.

“Every generation is here, and you can tell everyone appreciates the parade,” she said.

And when it comes to northern Michigan weather, devoted spectators of the parade have seen it all in past years: 90-degree heat, strong winds, sleet, and rain.

So when a network of dark cirrus clouds lingered above Central Avenue about 15 minutes after the hour-long parade began, it wasn’t surprising to see that these spectators, clumped along the sidewalks in lawn chairs, were all armed with umbrellas.


Jo Seamon of Curtis (left) and friend Julie Beer stay dry beneath an umbrella during the Mackinaw City parade Saturday, May 28. “This is a perfect example of Americana, in my opinion,” Mrs. Seamon said of the parade. “Every generation is here.” Jo Seamon of Curtis (left) and friend Julie Beer stay dry beneath an umbrella during the Mackinaw City parade Saturday, May 28. “This is a perfect example of Americana, in my opinion,” Mrs. Seamon said of the parade. “Every generation is here.” Do they mind the rain?

“We’ve been here in snow,” replies Rebecca Allen of Livonia with dignity, explaining that her family’s been attending the parade since she was a youngster. She sits in a row along with two friends and her parents, who are camping at the state park for the weekend.

Together, their umbrellas look like one seamless, multi-colored canopy stretching alongside the curb. Asked if they bring umbrellas every year, Ms. Allen said the group is always “prepared for anything,” but added that they checked the weather forecast last night.


Beloved by spectators in Mackinaw City every year, the Scottsville Clown Band marches down Central Avenue during the Memorial Day parade Saturday, May 28. Beloved by spectators in Mackinaw City every year, the Scottsville Clown Band marches down Central Avenue during the Memorial Day parade Saturday, May 28. Yes, these parade-goers are resilient. The smiles on their faces are proof.

For Judy Sanders of Carp Lake, the highlight is the Scottsville Clown Band from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario— a contingent of band members all more than 50 years old. By tradition, the band is the last parade unit to walk down the street, followed by the sirens of fire trucks signaling the parade’s end.

“They’re just phenomenal,” she said, seated on a bench underneath an umbrella with a friend. “Your heart beats out of your chest every time you hear the band play.”


Readying to march in the Memorial Day parade in Mackinaw City Saturday, May 28, in their authentic Native American regalia are Cindy Pallagi, her husband, Ken, and son, Trent. Mr. Pallagi, who’s participated in the weekend’s festivities since 1970, later played the role of Chief Wawatam during the pageant at Fort Michilimackinac. Readying to march in the Memorial Day parade in Mackinaw City Saturday, May 28, in their authentic Native American regalia are Cindy Pallagi, her husband, Ken, and son, Trent. Mr. Pallagi, who’s participated in the weekend’s festivities since 1970, later played the role of Chief Wawatam during the pageant at Fort Michilimackinac. It’s a family affair for Kathy Goodman of Indian River, whose teenage children have enjoyed coming to the parade since they were infants.

“It’s always interesting to watch because you’re pulling bands and participants from all over the place,” she said.

Ranking this year’s rainy weather in comparison to other years, her daughter, Ashley, said she’d give it a six on a scale of 10, “because two years ago I got sunburned because of the heat, and it was snowing last year.” Pageant Features 200+ Reenactors


Patti and Tim Allen of Livonia (back, from left) have been coming as a family to the Mackinaw City parade for 25 years. Always prepared for erratic weather, the group came to the parade armed with umbrellas. Also pictured are Bob Cox, Rebecca Allen, and Katie Fotiu. Patti and Tim Allen of Livonia (back, from left) have been coming as a family to the Mackinaw City parade for 25 years. Always prepared for erratic weather, the group came to the parade armed with umbrellas. Also pictured are Bob Cox, Rebecca Allen, and Katie Fotiu. Recreating important events that shaped the course of history in the Straits region, the Memorial Day Pageant at Fort Michilimackinac— made possible by more than 200 volunteers dressed as Indians, French voyageurs, and British soldiers dressed in authentic attire from the 18th century—is another highlight of the day.

The fort was originally a military garrison built by the French in 1715, who traded European goods with the Indians, such as weaponry and beadwork, in exchange for beaver pelts. But when the British took command of the fort during the middle of the century, their “command and conquer” mentality soon made them enemies among both the Indians and French.

Eventually, this hostility set the stage for a secret attack to overthrow the fort planned by Chief Wawatam June 2, 1763. As a way to gain entrance to the fort, the Indians played a game called “baggataway,” a sport similar to lacrosse played with long sticks, just outside of the entrance.

After the ball was launched by a player over the fort’s wall for the third time, the Indians suddenly attacked. Nine out of 12 British military posts in the Great Lakes region were successfully seized on the same day.

Spectators watched as Native American reenactors played baggataway, a rough game dubbed “mass mayhem” by the Indians. As the ball soared over the fort’s high wall for the third time, war cries and gunfire mingled as the attack began.

Ken Pallagi of Boyne City, who played the part of Chief Wawatam during the pageant, has been participating since 1970. He also marched down Central Avenue in his deerskin outfit alongside his wife, Cindy, and son, Trent.

“For me, it’s the community side of it that makes it special,” he said. “I get to see people I know in the pageant and parade route that I’ve shared good times with.”

In particular, he enjoys reenacting the Indians’ seize of Fort Michilimackinac in 1763, an important part of the history of the area.

Like the Trojan horse in Greek times, he said, “it was a surprise attack that lured the British out of the fort. It’s special because of the way it was done.”

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