SOUTHINGTON - Under crystal clear blue skies, Chris Bennett and his son Liam waited for apple crisp in a line that stretched across the Apple Harvest Festival Parade route on Center Street Sunday afternoon.
“If we don’t get moving quickly, we’re going to have to go back to our seats,” the older Bennett observed with a smile. “I love the apple crisp.”
Bennett grew up in Southington and is participating in an annual tradition that he has now passed down to his son. “Probably the apple crisp,” the six-year-old said when asked what his favorite part of the festival was. “I had it yesterday.”
Minutes later, the Bennetts and thousands of others lined the streets downtown to watch a quintessential hometown parade chock full of school bands, fife and drum corps, floats and a guest appearance by Darth Vader.
The 49th annual festival featured a fireworks display, entertainment, rides, the perennial Zion Lutheran Church apple fritters and dozens of other vendors selling mouth-watering treats or promoting their businesses.
The turnout for the Sunday afternoon parade packed Center Street and Main Street with people standing six or seven deep to get a glimpse of the Southington High School Blue Knights Marching Band and the Hatton School “Build Better Minds” float which featured dozens of kids in yellow hard hats. The parade lasted close to 90 minutes and featured every local school marching band, fife and drum corps, a police bagpipe band, a band of alumni from bugle and drum corps and a Christian rock band playing from the Faith Living Church float.
Martial arts schools marched down the street showing their moves and a contingent of characters from the Star Wars movies including an imposing “Darth Vader” who waved at children followed Miss Southington. “This was the best year yet,” said Southington resident Claudia Bell who has attended the festival all 49 years. “They got bands from way out far away. The festival brings it all together, it’s a hometown parade and people come from all over the state.”
As a retired local firefighter, her husband Ken Bell Sr. marched his 49th Apple Harvest Festival Parade Sunday afternoon. “He’s 79 and he’s never missed a parade,” Claudia Bell said before pointing across the street to the apple fritter booth run by the Zion Lutheran Church. “That started with a little homemade fritter machine,” she said. “The people at that church work so hard. That booth will be open all week early in the morning and people will be running over there to get their fritters before going to work.”
The crowd included long-time residents and newcomers who after taking in the selection of food – from Southington firefighters hot dogs with free meat sauce and sauerkraut to pumpkin fritters, crab cakes and kettle corn – and the jubilant crowd that cheered for the fire trucks as they rounded the corner from Center Street to Main Street.
“We were going to go to the Big E but we figured that would have been a nightmare,” said Mary Anne Dunbar of Wolcott. “We decided to come here. It’s wonderful to see the community come together. I think we are losing that in America. There was lots to see. We’ll come back.”
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or .