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Polonia bursts with pride at Dyngus Day Parade

How big was Buffalo’s eighth annual Dyngus Day Parade?

Too big to fit onto Clark Street, where the procession of more than 100 cars, trucks and marching groups officially started with a blessing at 5 p.m. Monday in front of historic Corpus Christi Catholic Church.

It also was too big to fit onto Sears Street, one block east, behind the church. Playter Street, a block still farther east, had to be pressed into service.

Standing in front of Corpus Christi was a woman from near Gdansk, Poland, who is visiting a daughter who lives here and gave her name as Teresa. She allowed that it was bigger than the celebrations she saw at home.

“I come back,” said her friend, Neil Gesicki, who said he lives in Kaisertown. “I’m proud to be Polish. It’s a chance to embrace my heritage.”

Shaking hands and waving to the crowd at the church was Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., After a quick consultation with the smiling man in red standing next to him, Dyngus Day Buffalo co-founder Eddy Dobosiewicz, he called out, “Na zdrowie!” (“Cheers!”)

Then the cars and trucks festooned with red and white signs and banners started moving.

“We’re going to hop in right here,” Schumer said to his entourage of staffers. “Happy Dyngus Day, everybody!”

Schumer wasn’t the only elected official or candidate that people would see along the parade route, which curled west over Broadway to Fillmore Avenue, south to Peckham Street and then east to the Central Terminal on Paderewski Drive.

At the head of the second section of the procession on Sears Street was State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, with a group of supporters and a sign truck.

“This is an extraordinary celebration of our community coming together, of every ethnicity, to celebrate the Polish community,” he said. “You know, I’ve been granted an adopted name. For the day, I’m Tim Kennedyski.”

There was no shortage of other kinds of promotion, as well.

The Citybration bison statue, Buffy, was decked out in Dyngus Day red and white. Miss Dyngus Day was the featured passenger in a fleet of 14 cars from Towne Mini. Simple Things, a hair salon in Williamsville, staged a salon scene on the back of its truck, with women in smocks and big curlers shooting aerosol cans of hair spray.

A contingent from the Buffalo Infringement Festival blared club dance music against an omnipresent background of polkas. A truck from American Freedom Apparel in Cheektowaga was a rolling display of dozens of the company’s pro-Second Amendment National Resistance Gear T-shirts.

The longest entry in the parade may have been the immense flatbed truck sponsored by Iron Workers Local 6, which featured union members riding on an elevated steel crossbeam.

Despite reports of a shortage of a Dyngus Day staple – pussy willows – the fuzzy budding branches were everywhere. Parade participants waved them and tossed them to onlookers.

They also tossed candy, red and white toys, and Dyngus Day beads, giving the long, noisy procession a Mardi Gras air. Women in a “Buffalo’s Butter Lambs” truck threw little restaurant packets of butter.

There also was an abundance of those other Dyngus Day accessories – squirt guns. As the parade progressed, the squirt-gun barrage seemed to grow more intense. Most dangerous of them was a stake truck carrying a portable outhouse and about a dozen well-equipped squirters who had the capacity to nail people on the curb from the center of the street.

“We just signed up and showed up. That’s how we do it,” said the driver, who declined to give his name. The woman in the passenger seat fired a stream across the cab as he answered.

Also coming on a whim was a long white Lincoln Town Car from JEM Limousine Service of Niagara Falls that was plastered with pom poms. Owner Eric Pawlowski said that his friend and former co-worker, John Kilanowski, also of Niagara Falls, convinced him to enter the parade.

Kilanowski said he has relatives living nearby on Coit Street. “I come here all the time,” he said. “I was here last year in the blizzard. It’s about home, it’s about Polish heritage, it’s about meeting people and bringing life to the neighborhood.”

Spectators bunched three and four deep on either side of the center line on Broadway as the procession passed. The crowd got even thicker in the final blocks on Peckham Street.

Organizers had estimated that as many as 100,000 would turn out for the parade and the dozens of Dyngus Day parties and dances throughout the area.

It seemed like several thousand of them were right there at the corner of Peckham and Memorial Drive, where the parade disbanded.

People were packed so tightly it was difficult to move.

Positioned perfectly for end-of-parade celebrations was Arty’s, a corner tavern that had set up a tent in its back yard to handle the flood of thirsty customers. Amid the sea of people near the front steps was a bouncer, checking IDs.

“What a great turn-out,” said Mike Mazurek from South Buffalo. “What a great thing for the neighborhood.”