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Funeral Parade may return to Charleston, with changed date

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After being canceled in Charleston last year, then abruptly moved to South Charleston, the annual Funeral Parade will return to Capitol Street in Charleston -- if planners have their way -- Aug. 17, a few weeks earlier than its usual appearance over the Labor Day weekend.

That has upset some in South Charleston, because the parade would compete with South Charleston's annual Summerfest.

"I'm dumbfounded that they'd do this," said Bob Anderson, executive director of the South Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It's the same night as South Charleston's Summerfest. I don't know why they're doing that.

Summerfest is held in South Charleston Aug. 13-18, with the bulk of the entertainment falling on the weekend.

"The Funeral Parade is always during the Labor Day weekend," Anderson said.

The Funeral Parade was part of Charleston's annual Sternwheel Regatta for almost 30 years and has lingered even after the Regatta was cancelled in 2008.

Last year, the Great Kanawha River Navy, the organizers of the parade, canceled the downtown event after a major sponsor, restaurateur Scott Miller, backed out over concerns of low attendance and the parade conflicting with the WVU-Marshall football game.

No other sponsors were found to take his place, but the parade was suddenly back on and moved to South Charleston.

In a Gazette story last August, Charleston Mayor Danny Jones was glad the parade would be held, regretted it wasn't in Charleston, but said parade organizers never asked the city for help.

The parade's grand marshal, Keith Pickens, didn't think the move was permanent. Last year, he'd said parade organizers hoped to bring the event back to Charleston, possibly as part of FestivALL.

In that same story, Pickens told the Gazette, "We wanted to keep it on Capitol Street. It's a historic location, and it's always been on Capitol Street."

Anderson thought the whole thing sounded funny to him. He said South Charleston rescued the event, and he thought they put on a fine parade.

"We had a good year last year. Over 300 people participated in our parade," he said.

He said even if Charleston and parade organizers planned to take the parade back, somebody should have called him. "Nobody called me," he said.

Anderson said the most he heard about it was some vague talk about moving the parade back to Charleston, and he wasn't really upset until he'd heard they'd changed the date to coincide with Summerfest.

He said it felt like Charleston was deliberately undermining South Charleston's annual festival, though he didn't know why.

Samantha Carney, sports and events sales manager for the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Charleston isn't trying to undermine South Charleston or Summerfest.

Parade organizers contacted the mayor's office, she said, and they wanted to pair the parade with a festival or other event to increase attendance. The weekend they wanted was Charleston's SportsFEST, Aug. 16-18.

"It was their call," she said.

Pat Wood with the Great Kanawha River Navy said he was surprised that Anderson was upset.

"I spoke with him about this a week ago," Wood said. "He didn't seem upset then."

However, he acknowledged the Navy hadn't checked South Charleston's calendar and wasn't really aware when South Charleston's Summerfest took place. They aren't trying to draw people away from it, Wood said.

Navy planning committee chairman Fred Greter said they were still finalizing plans and didn't have anything definite, though they wanted to have it in Charleston.

"I'm sorry that there may be some conflicting schedules going on in the valley," he said. "But I have to make choices all the time. There's so much going on in this valley that you have to decide which activity you're going to participate in."

Greter hoped to have some official announcement in the next week or so.

Anderson said there's not enough room for two funeral parades in Kanawha County. If the city wants to take the funeral parade back and hold the event earlier then that's their right, but South Charleston won't do their parade.

"That's fine by me," he said. "It saves me some money. I won't have to hire the band or pay for the beads or trophies." Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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