A community and city come together to celebrate in one of the seminal events celebrated by German Americans.
By Don Heimburger
Photographs by Don Heimburger
“No, I wasn’t scared…I was born and raised here in Chicago, so it didn’t bother me one bit,” says Joyce Csapo, who became the first queen of Chicago’s General von Steuben Parade in 1965 and rode on the queen’s float with her court of four other girls. She was wearing a white lace formal dress and a long royal blue cape with white trim that featured a standup collar.
The 23-year-old queen rode through Chicago’s downtown on lively State Street, which is the heart of the city and was popularized by singer Frank Sinatra in the song Chicago, where Sinatra refers to it as “State Street, that great street.” The corner of State and Madison was, at one time, the world’s busiest street corner, with thousands of trollies, automobiles, and shoppers all converging on the same spot.
“We had a decent crowd,” she remembers for that first parade, “but a lot of people had never heard of us, and were asking us why we were celebrating.” She explained that most of the people watching were not of German origin, and thus didn’t understand what the parade was all about.
To become queen, Csapo was asked by the German Day Association to sell flowers, and by collecting about $3,000 in flower money, she automatically was named queen. “It amounted to a lot of quarters,” she reminisces.
The parade has been a long-time commitment for Csapo and her family: when she was queen her father was co-chairman of the parade as well as first vice president of the German Day Association, and she and her daughters have participated in every parade but one since the beginning. “We’ve lost a lot of older people through the years,” she says of the German-American community that organizes the parade, “but we have a lot of youth soccer groups and other youth groups, and they are excited to be in it.” It’s estimated that more than 1,000 youth are now involved with the parade each year.
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