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.