Saturday, January 23, 2021

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Old Saybrook’s Iconic Torchlight Parade Canceled

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Based on Colonial-era militia drills, the Old Saybrook Torchlight Parade draws marchers from near and far. It has been canceled this year due to COVID-19 concerns. 

File photo by Susan Lambert/Harbor News

Based on Colonial-era militia drills, the Old Saybrook Torchlight Parade draws marchers from near and far. It has been canceled this year due to COVID-19 concerns. (File photo by Susan Lambert/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)

It’s another case of collateral damage from the COVID-19 pandemic: What would have been Old Saybrook’s 50th Torchlight Parade has been canceled. The parade was to take place on Saturday, Dec. 12, but concerns about the large crowds it attracts have led the town to cancel.

Next year’s parade, to take place on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, will now be the town’s 50th, explained Sandy Clark, who organizes the event, and will be celebrated as such.

Sandy Clark and her husband, Barry Clark, have been involved in organizing the parade for all of its 50 years, she said. Both are alumni of the Colonial Saybrook Fife and Drums Corps. The event was the brainchild of Bill Reid, who died in January 2018. Together with Reid’s grandsons Kenny and Chris Reid, the Clarks kept the iconic parade going.

“It’s the only parade of its kind in New England,” said Sandy Clark. “Fife and drum corps come from all over,” including Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Vermont.

“There are usually around 25 marching fife and drum corps and 15 to 20 dance clubs,” such as a group from the Westbrook Dance Academy, she said.

In addition, Girl Scouts, football teams, and other groups participate along with commercial vehicles decorated for the occasion.

The parade has been canceled only once before, according to Clark, and that was because of a blizzard. Otherwise, the event has carried on in all sorts of weather.

Saybrook’s Torchlight Parade has its roots in the musters of Colonial militias, when the playing of fifes and drums would summon townspeople to the commons. Each year, in addition to local marchers and costumed fife and drum corps, everyone is invited to bring a lantern and participate.

“We are disappointed but we understand,” said Clark. “It’s a fun parade and we’ll miss it this year.

But “[w]e’ll definitely do it next year,” she continued. “We’ll get back on track and we’ll celebrate the 50th anniversary then.”


Aviva Luria covers news from Old Saybrook and Westbrook for Zip06. Email Aviva at a.luria@shorepublishing.com.

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