'Growing' Gaspee celebration comes to fiery end

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Like clockwork, flames licked the steel cutout of the Gaspee, burning its sails. It was 4 p.m. Sunday and it was the official conclusion to the 52nd annual Gaspee Days celebration.

It also brings down the curtain on Jerry Peshka’s presidency not that he walked off the job as soon as a city fireboat extinguished the fire and steel raft built by Blount Marine in 1972 as a gift to the Gaspee Days Committee was secured to the dock at the Aspray Boathouse. The raft even has a tow hitch and wheels so it can be easily hauled out of Pawtuxet Cove and put in storage for the next celebration.

As has been the practice for at least 35 years, assistant Harbor Master Bill Plumb ferried the burning party – it’s included Scott Avedisian for as long as he’s been mayor – to the raft. It hasn’t always burned as they wished with numerous attempts and even lighted flares failing to ignite accelerants in the trough running around the cutout. This year was different.

“This was one of the better ones. It was a pretty fire,” said Plumb. The sails were quickly consumed by the flames surrounding the ship’s silhouette with the British colors being spared the indignity.

This year also saw some new developments for Gaspee. In Peshka’s words, “It’s growing and growing.”

This year’s road race that precedes the parade saw a record 1,640 runners. The race, along with the arts and crafts festival held on Memorial Day weekend, are major fundraisers for the celebration with a budget of $160,000. Peshka notes there were additional vendors this year as well as a couple more parade units. The Bristol 4th of July Committee with committee member Anthony Mederos in the lead marched in Saturday’s parade. Peshka said there’s growing cooperation between the two groups and opportunities to work together and save on expenses.

Feedback from those who marched in this year’s parade is that there were more spectators than usual. Chairs started appearing on both sides of Narragansett Parkway early in the week as people staked out their preferred spots.

The parade also lasted longer than usual, not because of the crowds but rather a couple of incidents that brought the line of march to a halt. Soon after the first division arrived at the Pawtuxet Bridge, a man who reportedly had forgotten to take his medication and not recently eaten passed out. The line of march halted so that a rescue could reach the location and provide assistance. Then, said Peshka, another man “wanted to pick a fight with police…and that didn’t work out [for the man].”

The respite provided spectators and marchers to mingle and simply to take in a great day.

Peshka was pleased how things turned out and especially to see momentum building for the celebration.

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