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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, May 29, 2024


Jan. 23, 2002 – It's been half a century since Ron de Lugo sat in a top-story window over Bar Normandie nervously awaiting a sound, a signal, a steelpan — anything that would show that St. Thomas's first Carnival parade was on its way.
He heard a triangle first, then the steelpans, then "everyone from every little crab hole, man — the Zulus, the Indians, everybody — came down from the hills," de Lugo said Wednesday, recounting the territory's first modern-day Carnival, in 1952.
The occasion for de Lugo's recollections was a 2002 Carnival Committee "press conference and media appreciation luncheon" at Palms Court Harborview Hotel.
A lot has changed since that September day, but not the spirit of the celebration. "The root of Carnival is community pride," de Lugo said, and everyone else agreed — long-standing Carnival Committee chair Kenneth "Blakey" Blake; committee executive director Caswil D. Callender; 1952 Carnival Queen Carmen Sibilly; Police Commissioner Franz Christian; a passel of current senators and at least one former senator, Elmo D. Roebuck; Rina Jacobs McBrowne, the governor's press secretary, Monique Sibilly Hodge, assistant Tourism commissioner; Beverly Nicholson, St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association executive director; and Louis Hill, St. Thomas-St. John administrator.
In the room bursting with political personalities, Blake and Callender were bursting with news about V.I. Carnival 2002 — "a cultural roogoodoo" celebrating the festival's golden anniversary. "Roogoodoo for You" is the 50th anniversary prize winning jingle, submitted by Clarence "Lumumba" Leonard.
Blake promised the "best, most colorful, most joyful Carnival ever."
Callender said the celebration brings $50 million to the territory annually and laid claim to its being the "second-largest and best-organized in the Caribbean." He added, "People have taken us for granted for too long. We have changed dramatically in 50 years. Every year it gets better."
Carnival takes a vast amount of planning and work, Callender noted. More than 200 volunteers work year 'round on various subcommittees, he said, with only two paid employees — himself and his assistant, Denise A. Henley-Smith. The 50th anniversary Carnival events are going on all year, starting last August with a Labor Day Cultural mas.
"We're catching up with the other islands," Blake said. "Guess what the Carnival queen and monarch get this year? A new car each!" He wouldn't specify the make or the benefactor, "but it's a sure thing," he said.
One thing is being taken away from this 50th Carnival: J'ouvert – not in fact, but in name. It's now "Roas-A-Time." Blake said the committee decided "We need something of our own that we named. Other places have J'ouvert, but now we're the only ones with Roas-A-Time; it's ours."
The committee is working collaboratively with the Tourism Department and the hotel association. Nicholson said Carnival hotel/air packages are out and "we are working with international contractors for charter flights to the territory." Sibilly-Hodge said Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines are going to carry postcards promoting Carnival.
Christian pledged "added safety" measures this year because of the large crowds expected, and Blake said the police presence would be augmented by special security guards hired by the committee at a cost of $50,000 to $60,000. "They will watch the gates and the walls especially," he said, a reference to Lionel Roberts Stadium.
All speakers touched on a desire for not only safety but courtesy. "Be kind to our guests," was the message. "Treat them with respect and dignity."
James O'Bryan, special assistant to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, standing in for the governor, said, "You can tell the times are changing. It's a sign of the times when the island's big politicians come to pay tribute to the media."
In the first-ever media recognition event, master of ceremonies Lee Vanterpool awarded plaques to print and electronic newspapers, radio and television stations in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, along with Martin Public Relations, the government's mainland p.r. firm; and Moxie Marketing. Lee Carle, acknowledged as the dean of the local press corps, took a brief bow on behalf of his colleagues.
Surrounding guest speaker de Lugo at the head table were Harry Daniel, representing Delegate Donna Christian Christensen, who is in Cuba; Charles Parrott, representing Lt .Gov. Gerard Luz James II; and Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd.
De Lugo, a former senator and longtime delegate to Congress, was presented a special award from Turnbull and was inducted into the Carnival Hall of Fame as culture bearer. Also inducted were Ector C. Roebuck, artisan, whose award was received by his son, Elmo Roebuck; and performing artist Gene "Butch"Cerge. More inductees will be announced in February, Selassie Francis, chair of the Archives Subcommittee, said.
"Mango Jones," de Lugo's on-air name as a WSTA disk jockey right down the road from Bar Normandie in Frenchtown, recounted what led up to that first carnival. "I'd have Happy Holiday on my show, the "First Cup of Coffee," or something like that. Happy was a street sweeper for the Public Works Department, and we would tell stories, and he'd help me to recall all the wonderful things I'd seen growing up here. People would call in and add stories.
"Then I heard Puerto Rico was having a carnival on a stage; so, I said why don't we put on our own carnival, no stage? And the calls started coming in."
The stage, so to speak, was set. "We'd have jumbies or Zulus at different times of the year, but no real celebration," de Lugo recalled. "We didn't have any money. Willie Pickering from WAPA put up the lights we borrowed from Puerto Rico for the first few years. Main Street looked so good. Then we got a bit of government funding and got our own lights. You should have seen Willie!
"Eldra Shulterbrandt, a teacher, Lennie Brewer from Bluebeard's Hotel and Guido Moron from the cable office helped start the whole thing. One time we got in a single-engine plane of Bob Steel's and flew to Trinidad to bring Sparrow back — a single engine!"
The first day of that 50-years-ago Carnival, "it started raining, and I thought it was all over," de Lugo said, but the celebration that went on for three days. "I thought everyone would say 'No raindrop on my head, man,' but the Duke of Iron just kept singing 'Nothing can stop the Carnival, no atom bomb, no snow, no rain.'"
And nothing did. "Everyone was soaked in mud in the ball park at the end," de Lugo said, "and we were all hugging and kissing and crying — a triumph. We were poor, but we were a community. It was a great experience, and it changed my life in many ways."
The celebration was changed to spring the next year and stayed there from then, to lengthen the tourist season, he said.
Blake said this year's adults' parade will be televised, edited in four to five hours, and then aired on the mainland.
To keep the public up to date on developments so far and those to come for Carnival 2002, the committee will be posting updates continually on its website, www.vicarnival.com. Anyone wanting additional information can send an e-mail query to the committee at jouvert@viaccess.net.

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