Marching Without the Beat of a Drum: Battle of Bunker Hill Day Parade Goes on in Spirit

It is the first year in recent memory that there will be no Parade on the Sunday prior to the Battle of Bunker Hill Day – which this year would have coincided with Flag Day on June 14.

There will be no bands.

There will be no Colonial militia group.

No Navy sailors from the USS Constitution.

And no fun characters like Spiderman for the kids to enjoy.

It’s a sad reality of what COVID-19 has done to traditions and celebrations around the country, and even in Charlestown where the formative event of the United States cannot even be recognized with the pomp and circumstance traditionally shown.

Long-time organizer Arthur Hurley said it is very disappointing, and it’s something he has done with great pride for more than 50 years. Year in and year out, he has done the work of getting the bands, the militias and all of the other entries in place with some dedicated volunteers. He said the Parade serves two purposes – a military Parade to honor those men who fought at Bunker Hill establishing the country and giving their lives for it. The second part is a celebration of Charlestown.

Not fulfilling those two purposes leaves a giant hole in the yearly ebbs and flows of the Town.

“I take a lot of pride in it,” he said. “That for sure. I always think about disappointing all those kids if we don’t have it. They don’t understand what it’s all about right now. It’s going to be as formative for them as it was for me growing up in Charlestown. Parade Day – in my day it was always June 17 – and you have this big parade, the sights and the sounds and the music. Tell me that doesn’t affect you. Now I find myself as the Chair of the Parade Committee. So much of my life lives around this commemoration of the Battle of Bunker Hill. The message going forward is bigger and better in 2021. Keep that Parade in your mind all year long.”

The disappointment at first sparked a new cry for a car parade just to continue the tradition in some fashion, but that was frowned upon by City Hall a few weeks ago. Hurley was told by City officials not to have such an event as it could cause people to gather.

A City spokesperson said they aren’t currently promoting car parades as alternatives for public parades and festivals because of their potential to draw crowds. The Office of Tourism, Sports and Entertainment spoke with the parade committee two weeks ago, she said, to share more information about City and state guidelines. 

There is talk about some illicit parades and maybe even some protests of the cancellation of that car parade and other celebrations – especially when protests have been so abundant lately. That said, Hurley indicated he was moving on to next year.

To make sure next year is indeed bigger and better, Hurley said he’s starting the call right now for more help and more participation.

“There are a handful of people that always have this Parade on their minds – planning and working on it,” he said. “We’ll need more people and more money to pull it off and we’ll need more participation by the community.”

So for now, a slow cadence on a Colonial drum marches over June 14’s empty streets and on into 2021 – carrying all of the uncertainty and disappointment of 2020 with it.

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