Kirk Wilson was supposed to keep his eyes forward, but the future mayor of Carlisle had never been in New York City before.
Marching down the center of Manhattan streets flanked by towering skyscrapers was like a wilderness trek through a canyon for the high school senior.
“My head kept going left and right all the time,” said Wilson, recalling a Thanksgiving Day 50 years ago when the Big Green Machine played in the Macy’s holiday parade.
“I was taking in the sights,” he said. “It was really exciting to see it in person … to be there in person. The marching was good. The music was good. Everything was pretty much second nature.”
For weeks, the Carlisle High School band had practiced the 90-second routine it was scheduled to perform in front of cameras next to the flagship department store at Broadway and 34th Street.
Band Director Clyde Barr had lines painted on the high school parking lot matching the street width and store frontage within which the band had to maneuver to play its numbers for a nationally televised audience.
“There was a real sense of pride to be selected. … The pride was on Carlisle,” said Wilson, who played the tenor saxophone and served as the band president during his senior year. In that capacity, he chaired club meetings and represented the ensemble at official public events.
“In many regards, we were very comfortable about performing in front of large crowds,” he said. In July 1967, the band participated in the Lions International parade in Chicago. That September Carlisle won the first annual Festival of High School Bands in Middletown.
Still, Wilson was worried the slightest misstep by any band member could cause an embarrassing chain reaction in the Big Apple. “I was nervous,” he said. “I was afraid my horn was going to squeak and not play music.”
Band members were up by 3 a.m. that Thursday, Nov. 23, for a quick rehearsal next to the Macy’s store. It was cold with a mist that gave way to clouds and sun by midmorning.
“Everybody was really tired at first,” Wilson said. “But you could feel the energy and the momentum picking up. By the time the parade started, we were at 105 percent of our ability.”
Don Mowery played the tuba his junior year at Carlisle High School. He remembers a busy schedule of daily practice for weeks on end until the band had mastered the routine.
“We could have done it in our sleep,” Mowery said. “We had a job to do. I remember being lined up and seeing the TV cameras on booms and platforms. We started marching and playing the music. It really happened fast.”
“As I remember, our performance was flawless,” Wilson said.
Mowery described the experience as almost surreal. “The streets were just lined with people.” He said the musical numbers that day were “Jingle Bells” and “I Love a Parade.”
Clyde Barr and his wife Lyn have kept a scrapbook of photos and newspaper clippings detailing the lead-up to the Macy’s parade. The band received word of the invitation in late July 1967.
The band boosters held its first meeting to plan for the Macy’s parade on Sept. 11. That same day, The Sentinel reported that band members would meet at 7:30 every morning through November for an hourlong practice.
While much of the money for the New York City trip came from funds leftover from the Chicago parade, there were a number of fundraisers held from September to November.
Local residents could pay to have their birth date advertised on a community birthday calendar, Lyn Barr said. She said an Oct. 4 Sentinel photo shows Kirk Wilson stopping Carlisle Police Chief Frank Giordano in his squad car while majorettes Susan King, Emily Stover and Kathy Cohick attempt to make a sell. Wilson would later serve as borough mayor in charge of the police department.
She said another popular item among Carlisle residents was Prom Peanuts. They were sold raw but could be roasted in a home oven.
The band at the time consisted of about 60 players and 20 auxiliary members. Most everyone signed on for the trip to New York along with 46 adult chaperones and officials.
They departed Carlisle High School on three chartered buses at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 22. Cumberland County Sheriff Robert E. Failor led the motorcade in his patrol car accompanied by Mayor Charles E. Wise. There was a two-way radio placed in each bus.
The motorcade was scheduled to arrive at the Statler Hilton Hotel across from Penn Station by 11 a.m. Wednesday. By 12:15 p.m., the students and their chaperones were on their way to the United Nations building for a tour and a briefing by a representative from Israel.
“To fudge an extra day out of the school board, we had to make the trip educational,” Lyn Barr said referring to the visit to the United Nations. A strict dress code was in place for the briefing and tour. Boys had to wear a coat and tie while girls had to wear dresses.
Band members were urged to go to bed early on Wednesday. After the early morning rehearsal, band members ate breakfast before assembling at the parade staging area in the vicinity of Central Park West and 77th Street. They had to be in position by 8:45 a.m.
From there, the parade moved down Broadway through Times Square before it terminated at the Macy’s store where the grandstand and TV cameras were set up. The Carlisle band was told their position was toward the end following a float carrying singer Vicki Carr.
“They were given fine reviews by Lorne Greene and Betty White, Hollywood stars who narrated the colorful parade,” The Sentinel reported on Nov. 24. “Heavy applause was noted as the band completed its snappy routine.
“Out of a total of 223 high school bands which applied for the honor to take part in the parade, the Carlisle unit was one of only nine selected,” according to the newspaper.
Following the parade, the band was treated to a Thanksgiving Day dinner in the famous Haymarket Restaurant of the Statler Hilton Hotel. The students then left the hotel for a tour of NBC studios and the Radio City Music Hall, where they saw a holiday performance of the Rockettes.
For Don Mowery, the visit to Radio City Music Hall marked the start of his courtship with Marjie Miller, the woman he would marry. In 1967-68, Miller was a high school junior who played the clarinet in the band.
After breakfast Friday morning, the band went on a bus tour of New York City and toured the Lincoln Center. They had lunch at the hotel before boarding the Italian cruise ship Cristoforo Columbo. Following dinner, the students had the opportunity to shop at the Macy’s store before they left New York around 9:15 p.m. Nov. 24.
The motorcade returned to Carlisle around 3 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 25. That afternoon, the band marched again — this time down the streets of Carlisle during the annual Christmas parade. They repeated the very same routine several times along the route.
The band picked up three trophies for its participation in the Macy’s parade. One was a three-by-five-foot flag that read “Macy’s Parade 1967.” Another was outstanding performance.
The third honor was a “Rollie,” a statuette presented by Macy’s officials in honor of the founder Roland Macy. The “Rollie” was described by The Sentinel as a handcrafted bust of a clown done in red terracotta that bears the name of the band at its base.