Utah pioneers would have peered out from their wide-brimmed hats and gingham bonnets and smiled Saturday as the state's rich history, portrayed through the imaginative minds of children, rolled down Salt Lake's Main Street.
It was a modern-day Deseret celebration dedicated to "Pioneer Spirit, a Legacy of Pride" - the theme of the 1988 Days of '47 Youth Parade.The annual parade, tagged as the largest youth parade in the country, was also one of the biggest in Utah history. It featured 80 entries and close to 5,000 children paying homage to the pioneers, who, seeking religious freedom, settled in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.
But the real stars were the children, dressed to resemble their favorite historic heros - including Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, Betsy Buttons, the Statue of Liberty, Johnny Appleseed, Paul Revere and even Mickey Mouse.
Petite pioneers wearing calico dresses, rugged mountain men and bronzed Lamanites, strolled with Pony Express riders and the armies of Helaman as police sirens blared and bands from Tooele, Taylorsville and Salt Lake trumpeted such patriotic tunes as "God Bless America" and "You're a Grand Old Flag."
Old Glory, 14 feet by 28 feet, was carried by Cub Scout Pack 599 of the Sunnyvale Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in West Valley City. The pack has been the official parade color guard for the past 12 years. Each year only those Scouts who attend practices at the National Guard are eligible to participate.
"I went to all the practices but one," Cub Scout Jay Bryner announced proudly. "That one I had to stay home and do the dishes."
That's the old pioneer work ethic, Jay. It was a work ethic exemplified by the farmers in the parade who, like their ancestors, coped Saturday with hundreds of crickets - most of whom bore a likeness to kids.
Fortunately dozens of children, showing a similarity to sea gulls, were also among the excited youngsters who made the long trek from South Temple to the City and County Building on Fourth South. Worker bees, caterpillars and red ants joined drill and cheerleading groups along the parade route as well.
Despite the warm morning temperature, each wore a sunny smile.
"We build the parade around children to make it a choice experience they can remember all their lives," said Norma Jones, parade chairman. The floats aren't spectacular, but the spirit is so great.
"You have to be a kid at heart to really enjoy it."
Jones and her committee began planning the parade in February. Many groups invited to participate also begin preparations early because their floats often are constructed by the children, who also design their own costumes.
There were no blue ribbons awarded to entries. And the only pay participants received was applause from bystanders - parents who sat proudly along the parade route, cameras in hand. Everyone wanted a permanent record of the 3-year-old green worms poking their heads through apples in Johnny Appleseed's orchard. And what about the 200 kids, dressed as Jr. Mints, Butterfingers, M&M's and Big Hunks, who saluted their pioneer forefathers with the biggest (chocolate) kiss in town.
How sweet it was.
Conspicuously missing from the parade were politicians. Only one - Salt Lake County Commissioner Michael Stewart and his family - was featured. But there were plenty of celebrities, including Days of '47 royalty, parade officers and church officials.
Their united message was expressed by Michaelene P. Grassli, general president of the LDS Primary: "Today, we pay honor to our heritage and to the pioneer spirit which is in the hearts of all children. I love our children and hope they will be provided with every opportunity to develop to their full potential."