By April Cole
Growing up in the shadow of the New Orleans Superdome, seven short miles in the suburb of Metairie, I learned to appreciate family and more open spaces than my counterparts in the city. I had Lafreniere Park, built on what was left of the old Jefferson Downs Race Track (yes, horse racing) after Hurricane Betsy devastated it in 1965. Less than a mile away from my house, I could ride my bicycle to the park playground and play little league softball, feed the ducks, hang out with friends, or take a walk on a two-mile track. I was close enough to the park to watch it morph into the beautiful serine place that it is today and appreciate every stage of the change as it happened. I was able to appreciate the celebrations that are associated with New Orleans, specifically, Mardi Gras!
Now, typically, Mardi Gras is crowded streets, huge crowds, lots of drinking, lack of inhibitions. In many people’s description of Mardi Gras in New Orleans…ONE BIG PARTY! But, that level of revelry was confined mainly to New Orleans, inside of Orleans Parish, what the rest of the 49 states refer to as a “county”. I attended a few parades in New Orleans prior to Mardi Gras Day. But never attended a Fat Tuesday Celebration in downtown New Orleans. My Mardi Gras Day celebrations were spent on Veterans Memorial Blvd. with my family and friends from school. Where we watched 3 parades back to back to back that took us ALL DAY to watch and enjoy. Why? Because, my mom and dad had enough sense not to drag three kids, within 5 years of age of one another, to a place where families should not be. You know what New Orleanians try to do during Mardi Gras? Leave town! It’s the out-of-towners who invade the French Quarter and the downtown districts for that chaos that has become the Biggest Party on Earth!
Why do I tell you all of this? Because I’ve heard of the Kentucky Derby being referred to as “a one day Mardi Gras”. One big debauchery of a party! “The infield”, as I understand it, is basically the “downtown N’Awlins district” of the celebrations. Why would you want to being your kids to that? To fight the traffic? To find a parking spot? Let’s hope you don’t get towed! To walk that distance? How much money do you spend on activities at while at the Derby? Who’s really got that type of cash to toss around when you have kids especially?!
That’s why Frankfort is the perfect Derby Destination for families this first Saturday in May. It’s much easier to find a parking spot. There’s no fear of losing your child in a crowd. And it’s just a whole lot of free family fun!
The Governor’s Downtown Derby Celebration is a festival celebrating the “fastest two minutes in sports”. The celebration has been going on in the capital city since 1936 to both large and small crowds. This year, the Downtown Frankfort merchants begin festivities at 9 am, with the exception of the Kentucky Coffeetree Café, who will open for breakfast at 7 am. The majority of the activities end at 1 pm. Most of the festivities will take place on the Old Capitol lawn, where the Kentucky Historical Society will open up the Old State Capitol for public viewing and tours, in addition to making your own Derby hats and other crafts. The folks from the Salato Wildlife Education Center will be on hand with a variety of animals indigenous to the Commonwealth. Old Abe and Mary Todd Lincoln will be roaming downtown mingling with the commoners. You’ll also be able to find the Southern Belles meandering along Broadway, reminding you what life was like back in the 19th century. The Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History will be free and open to the public from 10 am to 5 pm, as will the Kentucky Military History Museum. Headed back to the Old State Capitol lawn, you’ll find heats of stick horse races throughout the day, as well as the YMCA Derby Dash for kids ages 2 – 12. To register your child for the Derby Dash, click HERE. Live entertainment will be featured throughout the festival on the Jim Beam Stage on the Old Capitol lawn. Arts and crafts will also be available. The Kentucky Horse Park is bring out one of their Clydesdales to the parking lot of the Capital City Museum for kids to get up close and personal with. While the wonderful folks at the First Christian Church always put on a free mini festival for the kiddos. Many historical places will be free and open to the public at this time. And let’s not forget the “Pedal for the Posies”! It’s dubbed “the second fastest two minutes in sports” and pits downtown merchants and organizations against one another on small 16″ bicycles! Participants are encouraged to wear their “silks”, which really means an outrageous costume in this race! Word of advise – NO tutus. And NO capes!!!
See fun video below of the 2014 Race for the Posies
If you come early enough, you may be able to catch a glimpse of the Kentucky Governor and First Lady making their way to the special CSX train that runs from Frankfort to Louisville and back on Derby Day. The specially chartered train usually departs between 9:20 – 9:40 am filled with VIPs from CSX, well-connected Kentucky business people, or special guests of the governor and first lady. Steve and Jane Beshear usually take the time to walk through downtown Frankfort and meet with residents before boarding the train for Louisville.
Celebrating Derby in the Capital City is the way to go if you have a family. You can even get the kids home by naptime!
Wanna see photos from previous Derby festivities? Click HERE.