The sun sets on the Lilac Festival Armed Forces Torchlight Parade, but the community lights up the streets of Spokane – a local tradition for 75 years.
A police motorcade revved up at the head of the procession, and the cool air smelled of lilacs as the Lilac Royal Court took their places. The namesake flowers are in bloom along Washington Street and Spokane Falls Boulevard.
Folding chairs have been lined up along the route since Friday – locked up at coveted viewing locations to watch the parade of decorated horses, uniformed men and women, and local schools marching with pride.
The festival started in 1938 with one float; Saturday’s parade had 30 floats.
Lilac Festival Vice President Dan Ver Heul said the royalty are typically first in the parade, but this year their display had diamonds – twinkling lights – that needed the full effect of twilight.
“We felt it would be a great experience to have our girls all lit up,” Ver Heul said.
The creators of the Lilac Festival, the Associated Garden Clubs, were the first car up.
Jennifer Ogden, president of the club, said the creators wanted a festival and flower that represented Spokane. They chose lilacs – flowering bushes growing in Manito Park and Coeur d’Alene Park.
To celebrate the first parade, ladies from the garden club boarded a white flatbed truck, Ogden said. It was 38 degrees that night, quite a contrast with Saturday’s weather, as rain-bearing clouds moved away from Spokane toward the evening.
Success followed the original parade, but when World War II arrived, the parades stopped.
“They made sure every soldier who left home had a bouquet of lilacs to remind them of home,” Ogden added.
Veterans are the focus of the parade. Their numbers from World War II and Korea dwindle every year, but they return – waving to the adoring crowds.
“It makes you feel proud of what you did and where you’ve been,” said Burl “Windy” Winder, a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Fairchild Air Force Base also honored their recently fallen comrades: Capt. Tyler Voss, Capt. Victoria Pinckney and Tech Sgt. Tre Mackney, who perished in a KC-135 plane crash May 3 in Kyrgyzstan. The crowd hushed for a somber moment as airmen from Fairchild Air Force Base passed by carrying large photographs of Voss, Pinckney and Mackney.
Due to sequestration, however, Fairchild could not lend military equipment for the parade, Ver Heul said.