This Saturday, March 9, the 21st Mardi Gras Parade will take place in the village at 6:30 p.m. The highlight of this year’s parade will be a float in honor of Ken Brown’s years as King of Winter Carnival.
The tradition of crowning a King and Queen of Winter Carnival began at Holiday Valley many years ago and was moved to the village in 1993, when the first Mardi Gras parade was held in the village.
“The float will be decorated with symbols of things Ken loved,” said Ken’s daughter-in-law Vicki Brown, whose artistic talents guarantee a grand tribute.
Ken’s faithful court and loyal followers will escort the float along the same parade route that Ken followed so many times during his reign at Holiday Valley and in the village he loved.
“Ken was such a great king that he was always the King,” said 1994 Queen Patti Crist, organizer of the King and Queen competition. The queen was selected by a vote of applause at the gazebo following the parade.
“The first parade,” said Carol Fisher, “was a huge community effort. Everybody pitched in.”
Carol, with the help of Mike Kerns, Patti Crist, Jane Eshbaugh, Ken Brown and a host of others, led the effort to make it all happen.
“It was a dry time economically for the retailers at this end of the season. The parade brought skiers to town to frequent the shops and restaurants. The economic benefit of this was phenomenal,” said Carol.
To the thrill of the crowds lining the street, the first parade had 20 colorful floats and walking groups performing their antics down Main Street handing out necklaces of colorful beads. Jester hats added to the fun of the royal occasion.
“It was magical,” said Fisher.
King Ken, in royal costumes of colorful fabrics and a jeweled crown of feathers, loved to go against royal tradition with personalized additions to his royal attire such as his signature accessory of a huge mitten.
Twelve queens had the honor of reigning with King Ken from 1993 to 2004. Queen Jane Martin ruled with King Ken in 2000. According to Jane, “because of the caliber and personality, he truly deserves to be remembered as the King of Ellicottville.” The tradition ended with Queen Pat Enger in 2004.
The 50th Anniversary of Holiday Valley booklet published in 2008 tells a story about King Ken.
“When asked about how he won the King Contest at Winter Carnival so many years in a row, he has no qualms in saying, ‘I bought the votes!’ He would bribe the audience during the parade by handing out Loonies, Krispy Kreme donuts and roses to the ladies. “
In 1993, Queen Ginger Anderson (now deceased) was named the first queen of the Village Mardi Gras parade. Patti Crist reports her dreading the trip to the costume shop until they found the perfect outfit for her — a Norwegian Viking Queen costume with a helmet with horns and braids!
“Red, white and blue was the order of the day,” said 2002 Queen Amy DeTine. “I didn’t realize how serious this being a queen nominee was, riding along on the float having a good old time with Vicki Emke dressed in her husband’s Marine uniform as my guard. All of a sudden, Patti Crist was running alongside yelling at me, ‘wave, you have to wave more’!”
“How does a queen nominee prepare to march in the parade knowing King Ken Brown will be wearing the most flamboyant and magnificent costume ever?” asked 1994 Queen Patti Crist.
“At the costume shop, we found a great Cleopatra outfit, so CleoPatti was born. Ken’s signature oversized yellow mitten was always part of his garb, but he has shown up on stilts and even with a generator in tow to literally light him up. He loved being King.”
Chris (Moose) Brown, Ken’s son, said, “It was a great event for Ellicottville. Ken loved entertaining people and having a good laugh. Carpe Diem (seize the day)!”
All who knew Ken are better having been a part of his life, perhaps less serious about ourselves, perhaps more willing to break out of the mold of expectation, developing a better sense of humor, and for sure he gave us a far greater appreciation for the gift of life and how it can be lived.