Jonathan Crimmins

Jonathan Crimmins

As the clock struck noon last Friday the 45th President of these United States was sworn into office amidst pomp, circumstance and crowds observing the peaceful transfer of power. An act that is the envy of many throughout the world. For a small group of people from Brunswick it was a moment filled with memories.

Fifty-six years ago, on Jan. 20, 1961, nearly 100 youngsters from the Brunswick Junior High School Marching Band stood at attention ready to take part in the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. Just getting to the event was a milestone. Under the direction of band director Ernie George, the band braved snow storms, injuries and hijinks to play on their biggest stage.

The inauguration, for the members of the band, was not a political event. It was a chance to see the world, to see our President and to put on display the hard work and effort that the band had put forth. These band members, all in their early teens, were ready to shine.

In speaking to a number of the band members that traveled to Washington the messages were very similar. Junior Dionne, a clarinet player, spoke about the trip to the inaugural being his first experience with the world outside of Brunswick. It was exciting to be part of something so special.

Another band member, Brenda Baldwin, a majorette, spoke of being very ill on the trip. On the morning of the parade she had a temperature over 100 degrees, but refused to tell the chaperones. She was determined to march. Brenda was not going to miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime.

There were moments that demonstrated to the children that the world they came was very different from where they found themselves. Frances “Peep” Moore, a clarinet player, recalled one such moment while being so cold as the band waited for the parade to begin. Dressed in a blue lightweight wool jacket with white pants and a hat, the uniform offered no protection from the cold and the snow.

Frances and a few of the members of the band were invited to stand in the living room of a woman who lived in a house near the parade route. The woman who owned the home was chastised by her neighbors for letting the bandmates stay in her living room. The band members realized quickly that the woman was being yelled at, not because of her generosity, because she was black and the students were white. For these junior high schoolers, the world outside of Brunswick cast its troubled light down upon them.

Once the parade started the band members marched for miles. By the time, the band arrived at the reviewing stand in front of the President their hands could barely hold their instruments. Better still, many of the instruments were no longer able to play. Reeds frozen, metal valves too cold to hold a tune, the band marched on still. Junior Dionne saw his fingers go numb. Frances Moore saw her brand-new clarinet crack and break. Their time to play for the President had come and gone.

For a group so proud to show their talents, fate and the cold intervened.

Despite the disappointment of their silence before the President, the band had more uplifting moments. Brenda Baldwin talked of meeting Senator Margaret Chase Smith. Some of the students ate breakfast with Senator Smith, one of the most powerful women in the world. That experience was profound.

Other students found ways to entertain themselves despite all that was going on around them. The night before the parade several musicians snuck out of their hotel, in a snow storm, to get some souvenirs. Unfortunately, these souvenirs were “No Parking Signs” that dotted the DC landscape. It would seem that after 56 years the statute of limitations has expired and so can be told the great heist from Washington.

For these young people their trip to our nation’s capital was a brief period of memories that have lasted their entire lives. Junior Dionne summed up the thoughts of many when he told me, “I guess the most cherished memory was just being there and the first experience of the real world outside of Brunswick, Maine.

Their lives lived after that moment were as varied as any in America. Lawyers, mill workers, entrepreneurs, teachers, house wives, and beyond. Their own paths dotting the experiences that make up a life. These young band members, still in the infancy of their lives, found out that Brunswick had some things in common with the greater outside world, but for all that Brunswick had in 1961 there was a world to seize and lives to live.

No matter the differences or similarities in political affiliations, these students went to Washington to honor an institution and leave their mark on the world. For this group, fifty-six winters have passed since they marched into history. In our current climate, their respect for a job well done and their pride in their home town is something that we can all look to with humility and gratitude.

That’s my two cents…

Jonathan Crimmins lives in Brunswick and can be reached at j_ [email protected]

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