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Wholesale Observations: St. Patrick's Day, Pt. 4
Rafe Semmes
Rafe Semmes

This last column is told from the point of view of a downtown worker, caught up in all the noise and confusion that is Savannah's signature event, the St. Patrick's Day parade.


The earlier columns spoke of the experiences of a young student, marching in the parade;  a downtown resident, caught up in it a bit unawares;  and now, from the perspective of a downtown worker, forced to endure the noise, crowds and congestion during parade day itself.


The office I have worked for, for many years, is on the fourth floor of a building on Johnson Square, right smack in the middle of the parade route.  We do not get that day off, although some of our staff take a "vacation day" that day in order to enjoy the festivities.  Because I am a member of senior management,  I do not usually do that, opting to let junior staff take off that day instead of they want to, while still covering basic office functions.


Because the parade is so long, we usually hear it long before it actually makes its way around Johnson Square.  That is certainly distracting to those of us who are trying to get work done;  but, we mostly just try to "grin and bear it."  Although we do have a bit of a "bird's eye view" from our fourth-floor windows that face Bull Street.


By midday, the parade is usually all over downtown;  the streets are packed, and it's hard to even get out on the street on one's lunch break and watch a bit of it.  We are always glad when it's over, the streets quiet down some, and we can hope to get out on time.  I always feel for, and appreciate, the city workers who come behind and clean up the piles of trash left behind.


Even though the parade usually starts in Forsyth Park, a dozen or so blocks south of downtown, our staff has to get to the two parking garages we use by 7:30 AM, in order to get there before the streets are blocked off.  By 5 pm, when we get off, it's not that big a problem leaving downtown;  one just has to watch out for the hundreds of people still walking around, usually with no awareness of anything else around them.


This year's Savannah Morning News headlined an article with a photo taken from above the twin spires of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, on Abercorn and Liberty Streets.  I have never seen a photo taken that high up before!  It gave a "bird's eye view" of the street scene on Abercorn Street below – and also the twin-turreted building across the street, where I once spent a summer, in a small ground-floor apartment.


That summer I had unexpectedly gotten a job as a "Liens Records Clerk" in the Superior Court Clerk's office, in what is now called the "old" county courthouse, on Wright Square.  I did not have to be there until 9 AM; so when I found that small apartment across from the Cathedral, in easy walking distance, I was very pleased.


Until, that is, the Saturday afternoon I moved in, and discovered, to my great surprise, that the Cathedral rang the Angelus!  Three times a day:  6 AM, noon, and 6 PM.  I did not realize at first that was what that was, until Sunday morning, Sunday noon, and the Sunday afternoon.


I had read about the "Angelus" in history books, but had no idea it was still a tradition in modern times.  Until that summer!  (So much for sleeping late.)


In medieval Europe, towns were usually centered around the town church, with outlying fields after that.  In the days before clocks were commonplace, the town church rang its bells at 6 AM to awaken the townspeople to get up and go to work.  Then again at noon, to tell them it was time to break for lunch;  then again at 6 PM, to tell them it was time to go home for dinner.


I had no idea the Cathedral rang the Angelus, until that summer!  What a surprise that was.


The tiny apartment I had that summer is now a coffeehouse, imagine that.  I had several other very interesting experiences that summer, but that's another story.


Savannah's St. Patrick's Day parade had a long and varied history.  I have perspectives of it from several different angles.  And not the "partying" kind it is more well-known for.  I am glad to see the efforts being made to re-emphasize the family-oriented atmosphere it should be.  It should be a festive occasion, to celebrate our Irish heritage, and St. Patrick.  That's what it's really all about.


Erin Go Bragh!


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