Elvis, Santa Claus and more than a few leprechauns converged in downtown Rock Island on Saturday for the start of the 28th annual St. Patrick's Day Grand Parade.
The parade -- the only interstate event of its kind in the United States -- wound through downtown Rock Island, across Centennial Bridge and culminated at a post-parade bash at the RiverCenter in Davenport.
Throngs of parade-goers lined 3rd Street in Rock Island, huddling to stay warm in the blustery 30-degree weather with the aid of green-hued coats, hats, scarves and the occasional bowler hat.
The cold weather did little to keep Irish spirits at bay -- there were tutus, character impersonators, suspenders and green goggles. And, of course, there was Ernie Manrique.
Outfitted in a traditional red-and-green plaid Scottish kilt, knee-high socks and a foot-tall hat, Mr. Manrique, of Coal Valley, stood proudly among friends and family in an outfit that has become more than just once-a-year attire for him.
"Heritage is so important to us," said his wife, Debbie, who said the couple and two sons are longtime attendees of the area's parade. "We want the kids to know -- this is family."
Mr. Manrique, who is half-Spanish, half Irish, was decked out Saturday in his "everyday"-style kilt and said his collection includes a military and special occasion kilt as well.
Proud of his traditional attire, Mr. Manique said it reflected the sense of culture and community the parade brings each year -- an event he has big plans for in the future.
"One of these times, I'll be the grand marshal - just you watch," he said with a grin.
Nearby, Jerome Patrick and Jill Moffitt, both of Moline, snuck smiles and a quick kiss. They were celebrating Mr. Patrick's 50th birthday and the couple's Wednesday engagement. The two said they planned to make the parade a new tradition.
Across the street, Cherie Walter, of Silvis, was instilling some important traditions of her own in her five grandchildren. Surrounded by strollers and blankets, Ms. Walter comforted one bundled-up youngster while righting a fallen hat on another's head.
"Kind of an annual event now," said the 18-year-attendee, who said her grandchildren have grown up alongside the parade. "It's family time together."
The idea for the first Grand Parade was cultivated in 1985 by founders of the St. Patrick Society Quad Cities, who lined the streets with handmade Irish flags and painted a green line down 3rd Street in Davenport in honor of the celebration.
"That first year, we didn't know if it was just going to be the 20, 30 of us and a duck walking across the bridge," recalledMichael Patrick Scannell,co-membership chairman and longtime volunteer, with a chuckle. "We just had no idea."
It was a success and since then, the event has burgeoned, with highlights including the Mississippi River turning green during the third parade in 1988, icy rains in 1989 and a food donation drive in 1995 to honor the 150th anniversary of the Irish Famine.
Longtime parade chairman John Scally retired last year after 27 years organizing the event; the position was taken over by co-chairs Julie Walton and Denny Benes.
"We'll get people from all over the Midwest coming in," said Joseph Dooley, the society's vice president, who estimated crowds between 5,000 and 10,000 at this year's event.
Parade participants Saturday, wearing roller blades, green stick-on mustaches and even one brave soul dressed in a tutu and fairy wings, ended in Davenport, near the post-parade bash, which relocated from the Col Ballroom to the RiverCenter, at 136 E. 3rd St., this year to allow for additional parking.
The bash included Iowa City band The Beggarmen, several Irish dance troupes and prizes. Additionally, it celebrated this year's Grand Marshal Kevin Rafferty and Irish Mother of the YearJoAnne Walsh Beine.
Event proceeds contributed to the estimated $8,000 needed to put on the annual parade. The event was free for those 15 years old and younger.
"I don't care if you have the whole neighborhood with you - we want the kids to come" Mr. Scannell said at the bash, beaming as three of his grandchildren entered the RiverCenter and ran to meet him.
He saidthe weekend was meant not only to enjoy exuberant costumes and libations, but also to celebrate the Irish presence in the community."It's a family event."