LAWRENCE OLD-FASHIONED CHRISTMAS PARADE
Three women. Three cities. One fashionable dream.
From a humble beginning in 1993 with 21 horse-drawn vehicles traveling down Massachusetts, the Lawrence Christmas Parade has grown to a major event in the Midwest with as many as 85 entries in recent years. Originally named “The Eldridge Hotel Old Fashioned Christmas Parade,” this event was the dream of Robert W. Phillips, a local businessman and General Manager of the newly renovated Eldridge Hotel. This hotel plays a significant role in Lawrence and Kansas history, having twice been burned to the ground and twice rising from the ashes.
As news of this event spread, the number of entries increased each year and the crowds who came to watch grew dramatically, along with the expenses involved to support it. Fortunately, several local business people “grabbed the reins” and recruited other businesses to sponsor an entry and display a banner which allowed the parade to continue.
When the Eldridge Hotel was sold in 2004, another business stepped in and took the reins. Recognizing the reputation of this parade and the value to the city of Lawrence, CornerBank became the new corporate sponsor and the parade was renamed “The Lawrence Old Fashioned Christmas Parade.” With entries traveling from as far away as Texas, Minnesota North Dakota, and Arizona, the parade had acquired national recognition and demanded a tremendous amount of resources to support. CornerBank generously provided these and the tradition continued. When the only thing certain is change, the sale of CornerBank in 2009 required new leadership for the parade and several local businesses and volunteers stepped up to the challenge. Formed in 2007 by CornerBank, The Lawrence Old Fashioned Christmas Parade, LLC, is now under the direction of Kennedy Glass, Inc. and Bradley Farms as general managers. Other members are the Chamber of Commerce of Lawrence, KS, Downtown Lawrence, Eldridge Hotel Partners, LLC, Dunn’s Landing and Bob Schumm.
With funding a major concern, fate stepped in and provided the perfect partner for The Lawrence Christmas Parade. The Lawrence branch of Wells Fargo Advisors, a subsidiary of Wells Fargo & Company founded in 1852, became the new corporate sponsor in 2009. A better company to join in a celebration of our heritage could not have been found and the official Wells Fargo Stagecoach traveled down Massachusetts St. for 4 consecutive parades. When a new direction caused Wells Fargo Advisors to step down, an anonymous donor through the Lawrence Arts Center stepped up and took the reins to keep this tradition going. Along with the City of Lawrence, numerous local businesses and individuals and hundreds of volunteer hours from countless individuals, the Lawrence Old Fashioned Christmas Parade lives on!
Word of this event continues to spread and the number of people watching has grown year after year, numbering upward of 10,000. Although weather is always an unpredictable factor, parade-watchers begin gathering several hours before starting time to settle in, bringing blankets, chairs and even a recliner from home! The excitement is contagious and it’s hard to tell whether the entries or the spectators are having more fun. Traditions are an important part of life and help keep us grounded when things around us are in constant change. May the Lawrence Old Fashioned Christmas Parade continue as a tradition for many more years.
Horsepower; defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “a standard unit of power equal to 550 foot-pounds per second.” A horse of a different color (quite a different matter), hold your horses (don‘t be impatient), from the horse’s mouth (from the source), to horse around (to fool around), on a high horse (behaving with arrogance). Has any other animal had such an enduring impact on our language? Or on our history? Where would we be today if the horse had not carried us from one place to another, cleared and plowed our fields for food crops, transported our goods to markets? Why do such large and powerful animals allow themselves to be controlled by a much smaller human?
Although horses are no longer an integral part of our daily lives, they still command a fascination and devotion by a select group of people. It’s sometimes difficult to determine why you’ve been bitten by the “horse-bug” but it’s impossible to ignore. Most of us recognize the symptoms at an early age but it may take a lifetime to satisfy the craving. With enough power to kill us, those who have learned the language to communicate their wishes to horses are blessed with a relationship second to none.
With the invention of the combustion engine, the power structure of American agriculture and transportation changed and the work horses became artifacts of history. Some of the relics left behind were retired and allowed to grow old in a pasture. Unfortunately, others found their way into a can of dog food. One thing endured and we still quantify power in terms of “horsepower.”
Although most of us think of draft horses and mules as something grandpa or great-grandpa used to have, there remains a dedicated group of people who believe we need to preserve and propagate this legacy. These horses have become an expensive and labor intensive hobby for those who have the addiction, which is fortunate for those of us who get to see them in action. The Lawrence Old Fashioned Christmas Parade is the perfect venue to see them at their best. One of the few exclusively horse drawn parades in the United States and the only one in the Midwest, this parade is uniquely a celebration of the horse!
Over the years, most every draft breed has been showcased in the Lawrence Parade. Most of the draft breeds were originally developed in Northern Europe for warfare, bred to bear the substantial weight of a warrior in armor. Covered in armor themselves, they charged into battle and mowed down everything in their paths, much like the tanks of modern warfare which ultimately replaced them. Having been bred for great strength and size, they found their way into agriculture and transportation and were imported to the United States in the late 1800‘s for similar jobs. They are the largest of horse breeds, weighing in between 2,000 and 2,500 pounds.
There are 5 major breeds of draft horses and the Percheron may be the most widely distributed in the United States. Named after The Perche, one of the smallest provinces in old France southeast of Paris, this area of green hills and lush valleys is well suited to stock raising. Most often black or gray, Percherons are big horses with a lot of animation and stamina.
Of equal importance and notoriety, the Belgian has always dominated the horse pulling sport and is most often seen in the field with a plow. Most commonly chestnut, sorrel or roan in color, they are a sturdy breed which originated in Belgium and proved to be easy to keep and ship which added to their popularity.
For current city dwellers, the Clydesdale may well be the best-known of the draft breeds, thanks to the Budweiser hitch. At one time or another, almost everyone has seen this magnificent team of horses in parades and celebrations throughout the country. The Clyde has a white face and white feathered legs with superb action and flashy looks. This breed is native to the Clyde River valley region in Scotland and has the most substantial feet of the draft breeds.
The last 2 major draft breeds are the Shire and the Suffolk. Both originated in England with the Shire finding his job pulling heavy loads along the docks of Liverpool and London and the Suffolk turning the heavy soil in Norwich and Suffolk counties. As a breed, the Suffolk is known as a “farmers’ horse” because of its durability and willingness to work. The Shire has become a very bold moving horse and dominates hitch competitions in its native country.
Horses of all sizes and colors can be seen in the Lawrence Old Fashioned Christmas Parade. And if you are looking for something special, you won’t be disappointed!
OOver the past 24 years, The Lawrence Old Fashioned Christmas Parade has featured some spectacular hitch wagons. Ames Percheron Farms, a division of Ames Construction, brought 8 Percherons all the way from Jordan, Minnesota, to pull their shiny red freight wagon down Massachusetts St. The Lawrence office of Express Employment Professionals sponsored the Express Clydesdales, 6 rare and beautiful black and white Clydesdales pulling the bright blue Express Wagon. Pennington Seed Company brought their corporate high-wheeled wagon with 6 Percherons to make the trek through downtown. For 4 years, Wells Fargo Advisors brought the nationally famous and authentic Wells Fargo Stagecoach for this event. And for the last 2 years, Lawrence Adams from Warrensburg, MO, has brought his custom built high-wheeled show wagon pulled by 6 gorgeous Belgians all decked out for Christmas.
The real star of the parade, however, is an entry that will also be celebrating it’s 24th year in the Lawrence Old Fashioned Christmas Parade. Don and Connie Werner, owners of Werner Wagon Works in Horton, Kansas, have been an integral part of this event from the very beginning in 1993. The Werners have been building new and restoring horse drawn vehicles for more than 25 years. They also devote a substantial amount of time to teach the history of our great country and the westward movement that occurred in the 1800’s. Don is a wainwright and wheelwright and built the covered wagon which has become familiar to all parade watchers. Although humble in stature, their covered wagon represents the most significant mode of transportation used by our ancestors in their westward trek, and that’s what this parade is really about. In the early years, the wagon was pulled by a pair of Percheron cross draft mules. Sadie and Sara made many trips down Massachusetts St. entertaining the spectators and enjoying their job. But when illness sidelined Sara, both were sold to someone with the time to nurse Sara back on a long road to recovery. For those who have owned and worked a team of draft horses, they understand that separation can often lead to the death of one or both from sadness and depression. Teams become bonded at an early age and are kept and worked together during their training. Anyone who’s visited an Amish community has probably seen young horses tethered together in a pasture in preparation for their work as a pulling team.
So how did Don and Connie Werner become so firmly entrenched in a parade in Lawrence, Kansas? Perhaps it was fate that their paths crossed with Robert W. Phillips, the parade founder. In the fall of 1992, Phillips purchased a carriage at a sale in Waverly, Iowa, but had no way to transport it back to Kansas. Always willing to help, Don and Connie agreed to haul it and a friendship began. In 1993, Rob joined the Werners and others on a wagon train beginning in Westmoreland, Kansas, with plans to travel westward along the Oregon Trail to Marysville where the wagon train became a parade with enthusiastic cheers from the crowd. Rob brought his enthusiasm home and with the help of Don, Connie and others, the Eldridge Old Fashioned Christmas Parade made its debut in December, 1993.
Besides driving their covered wagon down Massachusetts St., Don and Connie have walked in many different shoes, or perhaps boots is a better description, to make this parade a success. For several years, Connie made enough chili, potato salad and other fixings to feed more than 100 people the night before the parade. And all of this was done in Phillips’ barn! Don and Connie have been around to greet entries traveling from other cities on Friday night, talked to countless people about coming to the parade to watch or bring an entry, helped with emergency repairs when a hitch has a problem, and scooped an unknown amount of poop! Perhaps the only constant this parade has had, Connie has devoted countless hours to educating committee members as the local parade organization has evolved. She is aptly named!
And any review of the parade history would be remiss without including Allen and Velora Prell, who will also be celebrating their 24th year. Following close behind at 23 years are Dave and Melva Sanner and Kenny Nelson. Between the Werners, the Prells, the Sanners and Nelson, some hearty horse people were recruited to form the “Advance Party.” This dedicated group travels from around Kansas, arrives on Thursday evening for a brief reunion of their own and are up early Friday morning working at the fairgrounds. They greet entries, haul panels, construct stalls and prepare identification and contact information. In recent years, more than 100 horses have needed an overnight home after a day of traveling. A more enthusiastic group of people could not be found and it’s obvious they share a love of horses and a strong bond of friendship. And if this isn’t enough, Allen, Dave and Kenny are in the saddle early on Saturday morning along with well-seasoned parade outriders Glenn Hajney, Eldon Pickett, Glenn Hermann, John Christofer, Mike Johnson and recent recruit, Oscar Scheetz. These veterans of many Lawrence parades are true horsemen. They escort parade entries and are constantly on the alert for anyone who may need assistance. New in 2011 and still with us is a group from the Shawnee County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse led by Chris Crawford and back for a repeat performance were 7 real cowboys from cattle ranches in Kiowa and Comanche counties in Kansas and 1 from Freedom, Oklahoma. All these people help insure that the entries and spectators can enjoy a safe event.
Lawrence, Kansas, is extremely lucky to have one of the few exclusively horse drawn parades in the United States and the only one in the Midwest. Over the years, entries have come from 8 different states and life-long friendships have been forged. This could only happen through the inspiration and hard work of people dedicated to preserving our national heritage and sharing a love and respect for the horses who made our progress possible. The smiles and cheers of the crowds who come to watch and learn are the only “Thanks” they want. Hopefully, this marvelous event will continue many more years!