June Downer: Battle of Bunker Hill Day Parade Cancelled for 2020

Though in the planning stages still, the Battle of Bunker Hill Day Parade on June 14 was to be one of the better ones in years, but all the planning is for naught as Parade Committee Chair Arthur Hurley made the difficult decision late last week to call off the 2020 Parade.

Hurley said it was the first time in recent memory that any Parade has been cancelled or even postponed – as the Sunday in June usually gets great weather and has even gone ahead during torrential rain over the years.

Never, though, has it been cancelled until COVID-19 hit the scene.

“The Parade is cancelled,” he told the paper on Monday. “There are a million reasons. I keep coming up with what could possibly happen. We could keep going and work so hard and then have to call it off a few days before the Parade date. I also don’t think a lot of participants are interested now. The bands want to get paid if we continue and it would get cancelled. If we had the Parade, we wonder if anyone would show up. Everyone I talked to said there was no choice in the matter. Next year, we’ll be bigger and better. As soon as we can, we’ll start planning for 2021.”

Calling off the Parade in Charlestown is like shutting off the lights at the Lincoln Monument – it just doesn’t happen. So, it speaks to the severity of the situation and the risk involved with having large gatherings in the summer when most believe the state will have recently opened back up from its shutdown. Already, the Bunker Hill Associates announced in early April they would be postponing the plethora of Charlestown Pride Week events, looking to perhaps have them in September while they now concentrate on helping to feed senior citizens shut in their homes.

“We’ll probably have a beautiful day on June 14 and this emergency will be over and maybe the Parade could happen,” he said. “It’s just too risky right now.”

Most everyone Hurley spoke with advised him that event prior to July 4 were likely best to be cancelled, no matter how important or historically significant.

State Rep. Dan Ryan agreed with the move, as did others.

“Thank you, Arthur Hurley and the rest of the Parade Committee for keeping such a wonderful tradition going for generations,” he said. “Like this Country, Commonwealth and Town. We will be back better than ever in 2021.”

The Parade dates back to 1786 at least and has been continuous in one form or another – with maybe a few years missed way back – since that time. However, in recent times, the Parade has always gone off no matter what.

Hurley said he can’t recall a time when the Parade was cancelled and he’s been coordinating it for decades.

“I can’t say exactly when it was cancelled,” he said. “I’m sure Parades a long time ago were cancelled. Eddie Callahan has said in the late 1800s it was cancelled a few years when the city had no money and no Parade. It looks like it might have been cancelled a few years before World War I, but we don’t know why.”

There was one near-cancellation in the near past that pulled through though.

In the late 1990s, when the late Jim Conway was still the chair of the Committee and Hurley an organizer, there were several days of torrential rain. Flooding was rampant, and former Mayor Tom Menino called up Conway and told him the City had pulled the Bunker Hill Day Parade permit. He told him it had been cancelled due to the rain.

That didn’t go over well on Conway though, who pushed on permit or not.

“The night before or the morning of the Parade, Mayor Menino called Jim Conway up and said he pulled the permit,” said Hurley. “Jim Conway told him there were no problems in Charlestown and there was no flooding or puddles and he thought it should continue. The cops started going around pulling down the ‘No Parking’ signs. They came down to Hays Square where I always am. They said, ‘Who’s Arthur Hurley?’ They were looking for me by name, which isn’t pleasant. A lot of participants didn’t show up. But it went on.” And while this June will be a little emptier than hoped, the show will go on, but rather on June 13, 2021.

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