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Bay Ridge welcomes back masked tots - Annual Ragamuffin Parade returns to neighborhood streets once more

This year, thousands of children will take to the streets of Bay Ridge, garbed in elaborate costumes, to take part in what has become not only a yearly ritual, but a rite of passage.

The masquerading youngsters – following in the footsteps of tens of thousands of children over the years – will strut their stuff along Third Avenue, on September 27, beginning at 1 p.m., during the 42nd annual Ragamuffin Parade, an event planned, with love and a sense of fun, by the young-at-heart for the young-in-years.

Indeed, as many as 25,000 or 30,000 spectators are expected to line the route of the parade, to watch the children march by, beginning at Bay Ridge Parkway and ending at 92nd Street.

Along the way, they are accompanied by marching bands, pipers and costumed characters out of favorite TV shows and movies, said Ted General, the event’s publicist. Bringing up the rear, he added, will be Santa Claus, riding – as he does every year – on a fire engine.

But, the real star turns are delivered by the youngsters, stressed Colleen Golden, Ragamuffin’s president.

“They come from all over,” she noted. “Everyone comes out for it. It’s amazing. Every street is crowded. Our main thing is to have something the kids can look forward to, and they enjoy it. It’s a great day for children.”

Every child who turns out gets a prize, Golden added, with those whose costumes are judged the most creative receiving a bicycle.

There are six grand prizes in all, said Golden, with one boy and one girl winning in each of three age groups, 0-3, 4-8 and 9-12. The youngest winners get tricycles, the winners in intermediate age group get medium-size bikes and the winners in the oldest group get large bikes, Golden said.

“If we could give 100 bikes away, it would be great,” enthused Golden. “There are so many terrific costumes. Sometimes, you say, oh, my gosh, it’s amazing what they can make.”

Today’s spectacular event grew out of considerably more humble beginnings. Back in 1967, the Reverend James McKenna, the associate pastor of Our Lady of Angels Church, and Bay Ridge resident Cliff Scanlon came up with the idea of having neighborhood kids dress up and parade around the block where OLA was situated.

Because many of the kids wore over-sized duds – their parents’ cast-off garments – the pair dubbed the children who participated in the very first parade ragamuffins, a nickname that has stuck for over 40 years as the original participants in the parade may now watch their own children donning fancy dress and taking part.

Civic activist Chuck Otey recalled his children participating in the early events.

“They were all handmade costumes,” he noted. “They had to dress like street urchins, so my kids always dressed like characters from Oliver Twist. My daughter was in the first Ragamuffin parade. She’s now a lawyer living in Minnesota and she still remembers it fondly. My son wore one of my jackets, a bowler, a pair of old pants cut down and shoes with holes in them. It was a very colorful thing to have the kids out in their homemade costumes.”

While Ragamuffin reaches out to public, private and parochial schools within the District 20 area, distributing applications through them, and registers children in advance, kids can still sign up on the day of the parade.

Children who have not previously registered, said Golden, should be taken to Third Avenue and 67th Street between 11 a.m. and 12:15 p.m., for last-minute registration. Judging takes place before the parade begins, between 11:30 p.m. and 12:15 p.m., Golden added, so the parade moves smoothly.

Bay Ridge may have originated the Ragamuffin tradition, but other places have picked it up.

“People who have been in the parade are now grown up, and they’ve moved to other cities and started their own Ragamuffin parades,” remarked Otey. “There are Ragamuffin parades all over the east coast now, and the first was here in Bay Ridge.”

“Now a lot of other places have it,” agreed Golden, “but not as large as ours.”

Two weeks prior to the parade, a luncheon will be held in honor of the parade’s grand marshal, Monsignor Michael Phillips, the pastor of St. Anselm’s Roman Catholic Church, and Dozier Hasty, the publisher of the Bay Ridge Eagle.

The luncheon – proceeds from which help pay the expenses of the event — will be held on Saturday, September 14th, at noon, at the Bay Ridge Manor, 476 76th Street. Tickets are $60 per person, and checks should be made payable to Ragamuffin, Inc.

For further information on either the parade or the luncheon, call 718-307-7855.

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