To all Dyngus Day revelers: The mermaid you will see waving from an ornate float in Monday's parade is not from Disney. She is the "Warsaw Mermaid," about whom a few legends flow.
The Polish Cadets of Buffalo are going with this one: Mermaid Syrena was the daughter of an undersea king. When her blue eyes first broke above the Vistula River, she spied a beautiful land, which, to make a long story short, became known as Warsaw.
The Cadets created the deep-water depiction the mermaid will inhabit. They shaped spray foam, carved swimming pool noodles, laid down an all-weather carpet and built a clam shell.
The mermaid [Laura O'Connor] will rain candy down on the children. Her helpers will circulate leaflets about her tale, which includes a prince, a hunt and a golden arrow.
After months of planning, the Cadets each year offer up one of the most elaborate floats in Buffalo's wildly popular Dyngus Day celebration of Polish pride.
The diverse gala ranges from sentimental to goofy, from grand to uncomplicated.
So do its floats.
While the Cadets prefer to tell a story of Polish heritage or lore, other creators go with levity. Ironworkers Local 6, for example, will play up the pink flamingo, according to a preview posted online.
Then there are the Bebak Brothers – Don, Bob and Jeff – and a half-dozen or more close friends and instigators.
Each year their float starts with a trailer you might use to haul lawn mowers. Some colorful wrapping goes around it. Then the gang piles on, dressed as a Polish all-star team. One year they were hockey players. Another year they were baseball players. This year, they'll wear basketball uniforms.
One of those driveway basketball hoops, its backboard painted special for the occasion, will go along for the ride. The all-stars will take shots at it along the parade route. If a basketball caroms into the crowd, it's likely to become someone's souvenir. Sometimes people in the crowd see a friend on the float, and hop on board. That's OK, too.
The team strives to entertain. The all-stars last year brought along a confetti cannon. Another year it was a device to shoot twin peaks of flame. This year they'll throw out not just 200 pounds of candy but also hundreds of baseball-size stress-relief balls with "Polska All Stars" stamped on them.
It all comes together the weekend before at "Smiling' Ted's," a used car lot on Bailey Avenue near Walden Avenue. The lot on Monday becomes the center of the Polish all-stars' festivities. Those tend to start well before the parade steps off at 5 p.m.
"Each year I lose two days of business," said Ted Sawicki, son of the original Smiling Ted.
The Bebak Brothers were inspired to go down this road as a way to honor their late father, Donald, a former marine who "always taught us to be proud of who we are and where we came from," Jeff Bebak said.
In that vein, the float and dozens more are just what Eddy Dobosiewicz was hoping for when, a little more than a decade ago, he encouraged Buffalo to turn up the volume on Dyngus Day, a celebration for the end of Lent. Dobosiewicz wanted to interest young Polish-Americans in their heritage and stoke a revival in the East Side neighborhoods settled by Polish immigrants.
"We saw that they were interested," said Dobosiewicz, a marketing and events manager who also runs "Forgotten Buffalo" tours. "They were hungry for it, especially those younger people who were looking for an excuse to celebrate their pride."
In its brief history, Buffalo's Dyngus Day celebration has become the nation's largest, drawing crowds now counted in the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds. Being snickered at by CNN's Anderson Cooper a few years ago only helped the cause.
With success comes complications. This year, a second polka concert, distinct from the concert inside the "official tent," will resonate inside the Central Terminal. It will raise money for the venerable old train station and landmark. Dobosiewicz wants people to know, however, that it is not a part of the official list of events, and the $10 Dyngus Day pass does not buy entry into the Central Terminal concert. For that, there's a separate $15 charge.
Buffalo's Dyngus Day is more than its parade, which begins at Corpus Christi Church. Some other highlights:
- The aforementioned Central Terminal concert with Polka band "Those Idiots" begins at 5 p.m.
- The concert in the Pussy Willow Party Tent, featuring the Grammy-winning "Brave Combo," which mixes polka, rock, zydeco, salsa and other genres, begins at 7:30 p.m.
- A celebration at the Adam Mickiewicz Libarary at 612 Fillmore Ave., which opens at 3 p.m., sometimes erupts into a dance party.
- Festivities extend well into the evening at Gypsy Parlor at 376 Grant St. and at DBGB at 253 Allen St.