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The Story of the Majestic Knights

How a group of volunteer neighborhood kids became a Townie legend.

I love a parade. We had a great celebration this month with our annual Bunker Hill Day parade through the streets of Charlestown, and we're now eagerly awaiting all the festivities honoring our nation’s birth. So many cities and towns across our country holding Rockwell-type remembrances. But I have to admit, I still miss watching the Majestic Knights.

The founding corps, St. Mary’s Cadets and Drill team, began in 1954 with little money, equipment or marching skills. Over 100 kids showed up with enthusiasm and an eagerness to learn, and by 1956 they were ready to compete, wearing uniforms made by their mothers, in a CYO field contest in Newburyport. These young men and women are known to this day as the “originals” and are still remembered in our hearts for bringing such pride to the neighborhood.

By 1958, the Cadets had moved up to Class B and posted an impressive record by winning 15 out of 16 titles, moving them up to Class A for the ‘59 season. They then became known forever as the Majestic Knights, comprising 21 horns, nine drums and a small color guard. In the 1960 Prince’s Standstill Contest at Boston Arena, they took away the top drum line title, beating out favorites St. Kevin’s and the Crusaders.

Up to this point, the Drum Major role had been performed by Billy Jordan, Hank O’Donnell and with the 1961 season, baritone horn man Gerry Walsh taking over the reins. That year saw the Corps travel to Miami, Florida to compete in the VFW Nationals Competition at the Orange Bowl, where their brilliant performances resulted with a 9th place position out of 52 units from across the United States.

Why did Charlestown love this group of young people and respect their efforts? Among the many reasons was the tradition they held that after every parade or competition, upon their arrival home, they would march in uniform to St. Mary’s Convent on Monument Square and play for the nuns. It was a little gesture that made the good sisters, an entire parish and community so grateful for the role models they were and continued to be through their lives.

During this time big upheavals took place. Many of the “originals” had “aged out” by turning 21 and the Corps changed hands from St. Mary’s to the Knights of Columbus Council #62. Also, the Junior Corps was formed to keep a younger group of talent ready to move up into the ranks when needed. Perhaps the most memorable occurrence in the history of the Corps took place at this time with Cargo Brennan’s solo performance of “Now and Forever,” captivating their audiences and ultimately becoming their trademark song.

The next few years saw “near perfect” field performances, many title victories and an increase to 52 horns and an enlarged drum line to include the new kettle drums. The Vietnam War also brought the loss of members.

After 15 years of sustaining championships, by the end of 1969 it became too difficult to financially maintain the Corps. It was a problem not unlike those facing many other groups in the region. As a result, the Majestic Knights of Columbus merged with St. Kevin’s Emerald Knights and became St. Kevin’s Majestic Knights. The end of one era the creation of the start of a “Townie” legend.

In 1975, as part of the bicentennial celebration of the Battle of Bunker Hill, the old Majestic Knights reunited for one last time. Although it was not an easy task trying to acquire musical instruments, drums, uniforms, flags and rifles -- not to mention practice space -- they did it and what a performance they gave us as the Majestic Knights Reunion Corps. They marched off the line once more from Hayes Square at the front of the Bunker Hill Day Parade and into our rich history.

In your travels if you should come across a former Knight, give them a “tip of the hat.” They are easy to find. Many of them remain role models in our town and across the country.

Thank you all -- “Now and Forever” -- for all the wonderful memories you gave us.

Donna O'Brien June 29, 2011 at 12:58 PM
Thanks, Cookie! I think it's so important to share these stories about great kids who have become great adults and leaders in our community. I tip my hat to you.
Tim Dineen June 29, 2011 at 01:07 PM
Great article.....brought back a lot of memories.
diane ferreira June 29, 2011 at 02:35 PM
love this article, can hear now & forever in my head now....
Ed Callahan June 29, 2011 at 06:10 PM
Cookie-Thank you for doing this. When I was just a "wee lad" we lived at Doc Hafferty's house at 46 High St. and the Corps occasionally practiced in the K. Of C. Hall right next door. I joined the Junior Corps when I was in the the 3rd grade and moved up to the Senior Corps when I was in the 6th or 7th Grade. I was one of the worst soprano players in the history of Drum Corps. Thanks for mentioning Cargo Brennan, who was a legend in Drum Corps and in the neighborhood. He tried despeartely to teach us how to play both at the Armory and in the basement of the High School. Alas, I was not one of his better students.
Anne Kennedy June 30, 2011 at 01:36 PM
Great article. Even the mention of "Now and Forever" will bring back loads of wonderful memories. We were so lucky to be a part of the Majestic Knights
Rosemarie Ryan July 03, 2011 at 03:39 PM
Thank you Cookie, these are such great memories for a lot of us and many still remain friends to this day. I know it was the best time of my life growing up to be a part of something so special and have so many wonderful people in our lives, beginning with the parents who were there thru thick & thin, volunteering, making uniforms, helping out wherever needed and cheering us on every step of the way, along with a lot of others too numerous to mention and maybe be left out, and of course the Drum Corps member themselves, a very special group of young people and now great adults who involve themselves in their communities. A lot of lessons were learned, most specifically honor, respect and love.
Bob Beal September 08, 2011 at 08:00 PM
Wow... here's a name from the past. Hey Tim hope your doing well.
Bob Beal September 08, 2011 at 08:06 PM
Cookie thanks for the memories! To this day I still get emotional when I hear Now and Forever. I am very proud of my days as an MK and I am always telling stories form those days. I miss marching in the Bunker Hill parade and all the competitions we were in. When I think of some of the great people I knew it warms my heart. I still like Jimmy Centerino even though he left us for BAC..lol . I'll never forget my friends from the corp....
Phyllis Ward January 06, 2012 at 05:03 PM
My name is David McGrath, and I am writing on behalf of my wife, Phyllis Ward, who marched with the Majestic Knights color guard and the Bostonians. Phyllis died just before Christmas, and I know this article would have brought many warm memories to her. We were married for thirty years and even in her final illness, she personified the ideals of drum corps: to bring joy and a sense of belonging through unified effort and support. If you remember her, you will recall that long braid down her back. Her last wish was fulfilled when we sent it to Locks of Love.
Kasey Hariman January 06, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Thanks a lot for finding us and commenting, David. It's great to know how much marching meant to her and how generous she was, even at the end. I'm sure your comment will mean a lot to Kathleen, as well, when she sees it.
Tim Dineen January 06, 2012 at 06:31 PM
My condolences David.....I marched with Phyllis many years ago and remember her fondly.
Bob Beal January 06, 2012 at 08:42 PM
David, my prayers are with you and your family in your time of loss. As member of the MK family Phyllis will be remembered always "Now and Forever'....
Paula Smith MacDonald January 11, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Phyllis was my best friend for the past 35 years. She was a true townie in all facets of her life, and an avid drum corp fan no matter what. She's one of the few I know who saved all her MK trinkets from back in the day. In fact, her husband David was sweet enough to mail me a box, complete with a 'plume' from the old hats, along with the braid worn on the left shoulder of our uniforms, to mention a few... Phyllis will be missed by all who knew and loved her. She not only shared a passion for drum corp, but for life in general. And was happiest helping people out, as evident in the puppies she and her family trained before handing them over to the guide society to be placed in homes where needed. You may be gone Phyl, but you will not be forgotten. In my heart, 'now and forever'.... Paula.
laurendecruz September 20, 2012 at 01:43 AM
does anyone remember the Majestic Knight who died in a car accident, and we went to the wake in somerville, and wore black arm bands after, was his last name St. Croix? Lauren.
laurendecruz September 20, 2012 at 01:47 AM
love the memories. Lauren
Jerry Nye February 05, 2013 at 05:27 PM
Dear David,My name is Jerry Nye,I marched in MK with Phyllis as well as a class mate in school for many years.I am very sorry to hear about your loss.Phyllis was a very loving and kind friend and person,she will be missed.As you know she had a very good sence of humor,gentle at times and tough as nails when she had to be (-;.Again I am sorry for your loss.I am glad you had 30 wonderful years together. Jerrry Nye
Jerry Nye February 05, 2013 at 05:30 PM
I believe his name was Dennis Mangan????
Jerry Nye February 05, 2013 at 05:33 PM
Ed (Chris) Callahan was one of our star Melephone players...
laurendecruz February 21, 2013 at 11:56 AM
Jerry Nye, Thanks for the answer, do you know what happened to Tom Healey and "DC 567". I know we are all up there in age but it's nice to have the time now to remenise, and Drum Corps is part of the fond memories. Thanks for being there. Lauren Decruz

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