Rensselaer Co. Historical Society works to preserve legacy of Uncle Sam Parade

TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — A local parade honoring an American legend has been canceled, but the Troy community is trying to salvage some kind of event in honor of Uncle Sam.

The Uncle Sam Parade has been a tradition in Troy for more than 40 years. Despite the parade being canceled this year, the Rensselaer County Historical Society is finding a way to preserve its legacy.

The historical society recently received a box of archives from the Uncle Sam Parade Committee that contains tapes of some of the earliest parades.

“Uncle Sam was a huge name for us,” Rensselaer County Historian Kathryn Sheehan said. “I get research requests literally from around the world.”

The tapes are all that remain of the parade as it was canceled due to a lack of funding. It costs around $25,000 to put on the event.

“From what I understand, it just became too much a burden to raise the funds every year,” Sheehan said. “That it was getting harder and harder every year and more expensive each year.”

Troy Mayor Patrick Madden said it’s disappointing the parade won’t happen.

“It is a loss to the community,” he said. “Uncle Sam is our guy, and it was a nice way to recognize the historical value.”

Business owners along the parade route said they’ve seen attendance decline over recent years.

“The parade route was lined with people,” Snow Man owner John Murphy said. “And when I bought this place 18 years ago, it was still a busy parade, but the last couple, like I said, the attendance just not there.”

City Council President Carmella Mantello grew up watching the parade. Now she’s looking for ways to salvage a celebration.

“We may not have a parade, and it may not be this huge bash, but guess what? We’re still going to celebrate Uncle Sam,” she said.

The city has money in the budget set aside to help with the parade costs, and Mantello hopes that can be used to fund something smaller.

“We’ll look short-term and long-term,” she said. “And what I’m hoping is we will have some kind of event to celebrate Uncle Sam.”

Mantello said the parade is a great tradition, but the meaning behind it is what’s really important. And now the tapes will be at the historical society to help the legend live on.

“We’ll definitely keep the memory alive for Uncle Sam and Samuel Wilson,” Sheehan said.

In addition to VHS tapes, there are also slides, correspondences, and pictures from the early parades.

The 41st annual parade would have been held on September 13.

Uncle Sam is based on Samuel Wilson, a Troy meatpacker during the War of 1812 who obtained a contract to supply beef to the Army, which he shipped in barrels. As government property, the barrels were branded with the initials “U.S.,” but soldiers joked that the initials referred to “Uncle Sam,” as Wilson was often called.

The annual Uncle Sam Parade grew out of the national Bicentennial celebrations in 1976.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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