Phil Bucking, who, on every Saturday before Easter hosts a petting zoo at his Sag Harbor Garden Center and for many years organized the annual Sag Harbor Easter Bonnet Parade, talks about the history of both.
Tell me about the history of the parade.
In 1996, the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce Started the Easter bonnet parade. It was a sidewalk parade down Main Street and they were looking for something to do afterwards. We got together with the chamber and said end your parade here. That was our first year with the business and part of our grand opening celebration was the petting zoo. It was very successful. So the following year, we decided to have the petting zoo again and both have continued on and now it’s in its 18th year.
Why did the chamber decide to sponsor a parade in the first place?
It was a way to get people out here. Over the past 20 years, the chamber has been trying to have an activity every month, if not every couple months. That was a good kick-off to the season and there were not a lot of activities on Main Street that weekend except Sunday’s Easter egg hunt at the park.
Adding the parade and petting zoo on Saturday was nice because it made it a whole weekend, something to do on both Saturday and Sunday.
This has been a winter to remember — stretching into spring as it has. Though it looks like it won’t be a factor this weekend, I’m guessing inclement weather has played a role in past parades. Is that true?
The time of year makes it challenging with the weather. But the parade has gone on every year. Generally there are at least a few dozen people marching in the bonnet parade. At times we’ve had as many as 100 people. The bad weather times it may have been only 10 people. In a case like that, I get my own kids out there to make sure it’s going on.
We’ve had to cancel the petting zoo twice. So it’s really tricky with the weather.
The Girl Scouts have been involved from the beginning. They started selling cookies here, now they’re also selling popcorn and hot dogs. Last year students set up a booth and raised several hundred dollars for the windmill restoration.
OK Phil, let’s talk aesthetics. What, to your way of thinking, makes for a good Easter bonnet?
Creativity – something different. There area lot of bonnets that aren’t really bonnets. Some people make hats. One year someone had a very tall hat, almost like a top hat — and there were birds all over it. You should go with a spring theme. There are also people who march in the parade with their pets and put bonnets on their dogs.
Let’s face it, a bonnet is a decidedly feminine wardrobe accessory. So do you find that as many men take part in the bonnet parade as women?
It’s probably mostly children, however some adults do take part and probably a few more women than men. That’s where your non-traditional element comes in. Some guy marched one year with a hard hat on. People have used real flowers and plants on their hats. There was a cool hat one year with a real flower pot on it.
So why do you think the bonnet tradition has stuck around as long as it has?
There’s excitement for spring. So even on days when the weather is not great, everyone is in a good mood and looking forward to it. When they get here with the animals, the kids just love it and have so much fun with it.
So what type of animals will be here this year?
Lamas, pigs, ducks, chickens, rabbits, kids — meaning baby goats — and lambs. The animals come from the Suffolk County Farm and Education Center in Yaphank which is part of Cornell Cooperative Extension.
Let’s get personal Phil. What can you tell me about your own bonnet?
My bonnet is a Garden Center hat. I’m not very creative. Although I do have my wide rim gardening hat that I’ve put flowers on or little plastic animals in the past. It’s like a work related bonnet.
So what do I win if I show up in the ultimate bonnet this Saturday?
There’s no judging of the bonnets … but there are gifts for participants.
Hmmm … it’s tempting.
The Sag Harbor Easter Bonnet Parade begins at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 30, 2013 on Main Street by the Laundromat. The petting zoo at the Garden Center on Spring Street runs from noon to 2 p.m.