Temperatures in the low 50s and a stiff, chilly wind weren't enough to deter the crowds from turning out to celebrate the First Ever 20th Annual World's Shortest St. Patrick's Day Parade on Bridge Street in downtown Hot Springs on Friday.
This year's celebration was just as short as always, but it certainly was not small. Before the 98-foot measurement, the host of the festivities dedicated the parade to the memory of the very first leprechaun in the 2004 parade, Dick Antoine.
Christopher McDonald, who famously played Shooter McGavin in "Happy Gilmore," was the official starter for the parade, and Justin Moore, a country music star from nearby Poyen, served as the celebrity grand marshal. Neither has been part of the Shortest St. Patrick's Day Parade, although McDonald has been to several, including the one in New York City.
"I've been to many, many St. Patrick's Day parades, being an Irishman myself," McDonald said. "And I thought maybe that nothing can beat the New York City one, but so far, this is more fun than New York City one, and that's blocks and blocks and blocks and blocks. The fact that it's the shortest in the Guinness Book of Records just gives it that little extra fun factor."
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Moore, who lives "30 minutes still to this day" from the Spa City, said he's never had the opportunity to do something like this before.
"I've never even been to this parade," he admitted. "I have no idea why; I just haven't. And so to have the chance to even get to see it, but to be involved in this capacity is really exciting. And I'm appreciative of the people here."
McDonald arrived in Hot Springs Thursday, and he said one of the first things he did was get "some of them hot springs on my body." He also took a tour of downtown and visited some of the old bath houses.
"I went this morning -- great, great place -- and was in it for 20 minutes," he said. "It was so hot when I got in, I was like, 'Oh my God, turn on the cold.' And then I went, 'I see why people love this so much.' ... It's such a beautiful town. I'm just enamored with the people and enamored with the actual beauty of this town, and it's a great honor to be here on the 20th anniversary."
While Moore has had multiple top-10 hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, most people treat him like a "normal" guy. In fact, he said the fact he and his wife "have a babysitter for the night" is one of the things he was looking forward to.
"I mean this as a compliment to the people here: people are happy for me and proud for me, but they don't really care, if that makes any sense," he said. "I mean, outside of events like this. I still coach my kids and softball and baseball and basketball, and to all the kids at school, I'm coach Justin, coach JM, and so that means a lot to me. I never wanted my decision to do what I do for a living to affect my kids bringing in a negative way."
Minnie Lenox, the human resources director for the city of Hot Springs, and retired Circuit Judge John Homer Wright were crowned the Shamrock Queen and King in a ceremony earlier in the day Friday. McDonald crowned and presented a bouquet of flowers to Lenox, and Moore crowned Wright and presented him his scepter.
"It's an awesome title," Lenox said. "I never thought that that would happen to me, but I am happy to be the queen of the St. Patrick's Day (Parade). It's about all of us and not just a certain set or a certain genre or whatever.
Gallery: First Ever 20th Annual World's Shortest St. Patrick's Day Parade
"We all come together to have a good time, and I want the kids to see that, that you can come together and have a fun time. Because I think in the past, St. Patrick's Day has had a connotation that was kind of negative for kids, and I want to change that. I want them to see, so I'll have some kids with me in the parade. So I want them to see and then say, 'It's not what people have been talking about.'"
Wright echoed Lenox's thoughts on the title while noting the energy in the city is "at an all-time high."
"Of course, it's a huge honor for me, and we've gotten a break with our weather," he said. "Everything's coming together. The excitement level in town to me seems to be like at an all-time high. Razorbacks won yesterday, and everybody's pumped about that. Just seems like everything is coming together for a fantastic parade. I'm really excited to be involved."
The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders are always a favorite at the parade, and the group has expanded from 12 to 16 this year.
"We had the opportunity to expand, and we thought what better time than now than to have more girls here be able to experience the greatness that we've experienced in the years in the past," Ashlee, a five-year veteran of the squad making her third trip to the parade, said.
A Louisiana native, Ashlee said she really enjoys getting to come to Hot Springs to take part in the parade because it "reminds me a lot of home."
"What I love the most about coming out here and doing this is the crowd -- the town," she said. "Everyone's so nice, so welcoming, so open. And the celebration is such a huge one. I've never seen something that has the record for being the smallest thing so huge, and that's my favorite thing about it."
Wright said choosing public servants was ideal for an anniversary year.
"Well, it's the 20th year, so I figured they just were saving us until an anniversary-type year," he said with a laugh. "Always they've focused on local people for the king and queen, and it's just our turn, I guess. I've always thought our king and queens were representative of our community, and I think they are this year as well. Minnie and I have been around a long time."
A 40-year veteran of the city, Lenox said she loves how the parade has grown each year.
"It has gotten bigger and bigger each year," she said. "The year we had COVID and everything, that was kind of a bummer, but it has come back. And I mean, it has come back with a vengeance and it is great. ... The fact that more and more people, more and more cultures are coming out and embracing St. Patrick's Day. So that's the important thing to me."