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Ghostbusters, Jedi and St. Patrick's Day

on Thu, 03/13/2014 - 00:00

The first St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Pittsburgh was held during the year 1869, and the event has become a regular feature within the Steel City since 1950. Not even nine-inches of snow in 1956, nor a full-scale blizzard in 1993, have deterred the Irish faithful of the region from marching through the streets of the Golden Triangle. Over 150,000 people regularly attend the proceedings—with over 350,000 on hand in 2012—making the Pittsburgh St. Patrick’s Day Parade the second largest of its kind in the United States. In addition to community congregation, it is also a day of celebration for those with ancestral ties to Ireland. “The parade is first and foremost about our Irish Heritage and St. Patrick,” 2014 parade organizer Jan Griffith explains. “Forty percent of the people in the Greater Pittsburgh Area claim some Irish Ancestry.”

On both St. Patrick’s Day and the Saturday of the parade itself, that number jumps from forty to nearly 100 percent as almost everyone in the city dons some type of green and participates in the festivities. Pittsburgh has a diverse ethnic community filled with Italian-Americans, Polish-Americans, African-Americans and German-Americans, but they are all Irish come the middle of March. The list extends even further, however, with Jedi Knights and Ghostbusters joining the fray thanks to members of both the Steel City Ghostbusters and the Echo Base division of the Rebel Legion—an international Star Wars costuming organization—that have likewise become an annual addition to the parade celebration.

“The crowds are always loud, crazy and fun,” Steel City Ghostbuster David Swartz says of the event. “We love it. The buildup walking down Grant Street is nothing short of the feeling of being in the movie, but then when you turn onto the Boulevard of the Allies and walk down past that huge parking garage, it’s an entirely different world. Those people are the ones we always look forward to seeing because they are the loudest and most exciting. We count the days until we are in the parade every year.”

Although the Steel City Ghostbusters had already appeared in a St. Patrick’s Day Parade a few years earlier, 2013 was the first time that the local Rebel Legion participated. For Danielle Volkar of Echo Base, however, the euphoria she felt was similar to the one experienced by David Swartz. “My favorite memory was when we turned the corner at Grant Street,” Volkar remembers. “Holy wow, was that ever a surprise and beautiful, to see so many people lined up along both sides of the streets. To see the people waving from the buildings and parking lots was amazing. When we reached the reviewing stand, everyone stood up and cheered wildly for us. That felt great!”

Although it may seem odd for Ghostbusters and Jedi to appear in a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, it is actually in accordance with the overall goal of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee. “We strive to produce not only an Irish parade, but one that the entire family will love,” organizer Jan Griffith explains. “And who doesn’t love Star Wars and Ghostbusters?” Apparently not very many people in Pittsburgh would disagree with that rhetorical question, as the Rebel Legion and Steel City Ghostbusters finished first and second for the “Best Senior Non-Irish Marching Men” Award in 2013. “They stood out because of their costuming and interaction with the crowd,” Griffith said of the selections. “They aren’t just a group of people from some company walking along, they were real eye candy.”

“The Force was strong with us all,” Danielle Volkar jokingly remarked in regards to the award. “The responses were overwhelming. They cheered, applauded and ran up to us asking for photos, Force chokes and various marriage proposals. Pittsburgh definitely welcomed the Rebel Legion with open arms, and we were very pleased to see such a strong support for our Star Wars Charity-Costuming Organization.”

The response was equally strong for the Steel City Ghostbusters, who were joined in the 2013 St. Patrick’s Day Parade by a local replica of the Ecto-1 Cadillac used in the Ghostbusters films. “We had the car, the crew and the frenzied Pittsburgh fans,” David Swartz said of the experience. “It was like something you read in a movie script or novel. You grow up as a kid watching the movies and wishing the day will come when you get to be a Ghostbuster, and then the St. Patrick’s Day Parade comes and you’re walking with your friends, the car, the music and have all these great people watching you and instantly it hits you that you’ve reached the top of the mountain. It’s something amazing.”

While both the Rebel Legion and Steel City Ghostbusters again participated in the 2014 St. Patrick’s Day Parade, they also brought along some “cohorts” to join the festivities as well. Employees from New Dimension Comics, for instance, accompanied the Ghostbusters, while members from two additional local Star Wars organizations—the 501st Legion and the Mandalorian Mercs—were part of the Rebel Legion contingent. “We’re also excited to see our friends from ‘Pittsburgh Movie Cars’ in the parade, which features the Pittsburgh Ecto-1, Steel City Time Machine (Back to the Future DeLorean) and a Jurassic Park Jeep,” David Swartz added shortly before the event. “We’ve thought about going to the Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade one year to join the other Ghostbuster fan groups who walk out there, but this is home and we couldn’t leave all of these great people behind.”

Danielle Volkar agrees. “Honestly, it is the best organized parade that I have seen since moving to Pennsylvania from New York,” she says. “It is very well run and organized. While there is a ton of preparation that has to be done and fundraising, they keep the news flowing and there are constant updates. You have a feeling of Irish Pride and belonging even if you are not Irish!”

Truth be told, everyone in Pittsburgh is Irish during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade—even Ghostbusters and Jedi.

Anthony Letizia

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