The Mark A. Gulotta Waterfront Park was filled with colorful “floats” and smiling children as the annual Gray Monkey Parade ran Friday afternoon.
Founded in 1946 by teacher Lolita Daigre, the parade originally ran down Railroad Avenue.
“She was trying to raise money so she could take her class to the Audubon Zoo, riding the train from Plaquemine to New Orleans,” said Tonya Cangelosi, the current children’s librarian with the Iberville Parish Library and the organizer of the modern Gray Monkey Parade.
Cangelosi explained how the parade got its name.
“When Mrs. Daigre was at the Audubon Zoo, she bought Gray Monkey and his ‘wife,’ Brownie, which we still have,” she said.
The monkey couple along with a later acquisition, their “child,” Cocoa, today still have a prominent role in the parade and adorn its lead float. “They’re over 70 years old and they’re still in pretty good shape.”
When Daigre retired, she turned the Gray Monkey Parade over to the library, which began organizing the fun-filled event in 1985, making Friday’s running the library’s 33rd annual, Cangelosi said.
“We changed it from a fundraiser to a literary themed parade around the time of Mardi Gras but we changed it because we kept having problems with nasty weather,” she continued.
The library also changed the route from Railroad Avenue.
“Originally, it started out on Railroad Avenue, running in front of the courthouse, but on Railroad, we ran into problems, like the train,” Cangelosi said.
In Daigre’s realm over the parade, she said, the City of Plaquemine was able to keep trains from running through town during the parade, but when that ended an alternate location had to be found.
So the parade got moved to behind the library’s main branch in Plaquemine, the a couple of other locations, landing eventually at the Waterfront Park, Cangelosi explained.
Staging the Gray Monkey Parade at the park gives the library plenty of space and its pavilion provides an alternative for bad weather with its huge, covered pavilion.
“…The community, the parents and the children are all loving the new location,” she said.
Cangelosi said the parade has a long and storied history.
“We have people who tell us they remember the stuffed animals hanging in their classrooms on clotheslines and we have some newspaper clippings from earlier parades,” she said.
“It’s been going on for a long time and the library tries to include the entire parish, not just the children in Plaquemine, but those who live down the bayou and across the river – just all over the place,” Cangelosi said.
This year’s parade had at least 200 children, while as many as 700 people in all were probably involved in one way or another, she said.
“Some people really put a lot of effort into their entry,” Cangelosi said, continuing by saying there has been talk with the library staff to begin judging entries next year, “if we can figure out a way to do it without hurting anybody’s feelings.”