Five beauty queens, eight clowns and five Lee County fire trucks were among the merrymakers who rolled through downtown Sanford in a festive procession, maintaining a small-town tradition dating back to the 1940s.
Sanford officials staged a make-up Christmas parade Sunday evening, just 13 days after the town’s originally scheduled parade broke up in a panic in the wake of gunfire that injured two residents.
Local officials had just five days to organize the second event, compared with the six months it took the Central Carolina Jaycees to plan the initial pageant. The route was cut from four miles to just over one mile, and the number of particpants also shrank, from 102 to 35.
“There was a few people who thought maybe it was too soon, maybe we should wait, and maybe we couldn’t pull it off,” said Mayor Chet Mann. “We’re not going to let this take our spirit away. We’re not going to live in fear.”
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The big fancy floats leased for the Dec. 5 parade by Sanford Lions Club, Central Carolina Hospital and Sandhills Orthodontics were not available Sunday. But that didn’t discourage the city’s 1925 fire truck, or Larry Hall’s Chevrolet Blazer plastered with 51,300 pennies, or the Sanford VFW’s Army transport vehicle pulling a camouflaged trailer.
Mann said the annual parade is the town’s “exclamation point.” Sanford prides itself on hosting one of the longest parades in the state.
The Dec. 5 shooting that scattered the participants and residents was not connected to the parade but was an act of revenge against the murder in July of a local teenager. Participants described the ensuing chaos of cars speeding in the opposite direction of the parade, at least one auto dragging an orange safety cone trapped under its chassis.
Sanford is a town of 32,000 and a one-time brick manufacturing hub whose biggest employers today are Static Control Components, manufacturer of ink toner cartriges, and Caterpillar, the construction equipment giant. Fresh off a $15 million project to spruce up the town’s streetscape, officials here are planning greenways and hoping to develop a state park on the site of a Civil War-era iron furnace.
Charles Taylor, a councilman here and one of the organizers of the last-minute parade, said Sanford is unaccustomed to making the national news. He said the parade’s main attraction, Santa Claus, only made it one block into the Dec. 5 parade before people fled. On Sunday, Santa was back for a makeup performance.
Two high-school marching bands couldn’t be booked because their season had ended and they had turned in their marching uniforms, Taylor said. A major cheerleading competition kept other youths from participating this time, he said.
“A lot of the kids didn’t get to see Santa Claus,” Taylor said. “I can’t imagine a Christmas parade without a visit from Santa Claus.”