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'Magic' march: Annual Duluth parade celebrates spring smelt run

Sam Vevang portrays the Smelt Queen in Canal Park Sunday, assisted by Hannah Grunzke and Juniper Rodriques, 4. Vevang found the role had its difficulties, including limited visibility and a gusty wind. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com1 / 4
Morris dancer John Finkle and musicians from The Brass Messengers perform during Sunday’s “Run, Smelt, Run!” parade. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com2 / 4
Juniper Rodriqes, 4, and Hannah Grunzke help Sam Vevang prepare to lead Sunday’s “Run, Smelt, Run!” parade as the Smelt Queen. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com3 / 4
Rob Hadaway waves to spectators during Sunday’s “Run, Smelt, Run!” parade. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com4 / 4

The crowd cheered as the smelt curlers swept with their brooms and a curling rock and rings pranced around, circled by a woman running with a silver Olympic flag snapping in the wind.

After the smelt homage to the Duluth-based U.S. men's Olympic curling gold medalists danced away on Sunday afternoon, the moment people were waiting for arrived.

"There she is," a woman yelled as the Smelt Queen — a 10-foot smelt puppet wearing red lipstick — made her way to the front of the crowd gathered in Canal Park.

Stilt walker Steve Rodriques watches Sunday’s festivities from his high perch. Steve Kuchera / DNTThe queen walked back and forth to music played by the Twin Cities-based Brass Messengers, as the Royal Smelt Guard stood on stilts in the background, before heading down the Lakewalk in the Magic Smelt Troupe's "Run, Smelt, Run!" The annual parade and fry celebrates the small silver fish that run in the region's streams in the spring.

"Rivers of ice break up and run free!" the character Neptune declared to cheers at the start of the parade.

Visibility in the Smelt Queen costume was limited and the wind made walking in the costume difficult, said Sam Vevang, who dressed as the Smelt Queen this year.

"It's a great honor and responsibility. It's pretty fun," he said.

The smelt parade is a fun time to get outside in spring, he said.

"There's this big lake here and we all live by it and all the smelt are a part of that," he said.

Clad in silver foil hats, silver capes or sequined clothes, carrying smelt-shaped puppets on sticks, the crowd made its way down the Lakewalk. For some, it was a way to enjoy a warm, sunny Sunday along Lake Superior.

Duluth resident Rosemary Guttormsson had a tin fish tied with ribbon to her hat, a creation she made in about 10 minutes a couple hours before the parade started. She had never been to the smelt parade before, but she knew some of the people in the troupe and it was a nice day, she said.

"It's usually 30 degrees with wind off the lake," she said.

Amelia Greensmith, 4-1/2, poses with her homemade smelt costume. Steve Kuchera / DNTJudy Sausen of Duluth decided to not go with a costume this year, but was getting inspired to maybe wear a costume at next year's parade.

"It's just fun to be here and it's such a beautiful day. I think I came last year or two years ago and it was just cold, the wind off the lake — we were all freezing. But how could you stay inside today?" she said. "I think it's great. I think anything that brings people together is good, for fun. There are other things that bring people together, they're all good too, but for fun is important too. You've got to have some fun."

Duluth residents Dawn King and Norah Ness wore teal capes and sparkles on their clothing, makeup fish scales on their faces and rhinestones on their skin. Some parts of their costumes were new this year and some were from previous years' costumes.

"This is a family holiday and we have a bin like you have for Christmas in the basement and it's just smelt stuff," King said.

They've enjoyed seeing the event grow each year and the best part is seeing everyone's homemade getups, because smelt costumes can't just be purchased at Target, she said. Plus, they also enjoy eating the smelt at the fry.

"It's just a fun community thing and spring has sprung because the smelt are running," she said.

Wearing matching silver crowns, Linda Swensen of Elk River, Brenda Buus of Proctor and Marge Sulla of Tower were enjoying the parade going by. They used to smelt with their dads as kids, but it was their first time attending the parade. They didn't know what to expect this year other than what they saw on the parade's Facebook page and website.

"The music was excellent," Buus said. Sulla added, "We're always up for something unique. We've got to celebrate our fish."