Today marks the 93rd birthday of Helena's Vigilante Parade, which ranks among the longest-running high school parades in the nation.
Scheduled to start at noon today in downtown Helena, the Vigilante Parade was originated in 1924 by Helena High principal A.J. Roberts, whose goal was to replace several activities in May that had “gotten out of hand,” including Skip Day and Senior-Junior Fight Day.
Originally, back in the 1890s, the school’s big spring event was called the “Senior-Junior Fight.” This entailed a battle between the two grades over the placement of their class flags. It was not uncommon for combatants to sport black eyes and fat lips at school the next day.
A few years later, the fight was moved from the ground-level flagpole to the spires on the roof of the old high school (which was located close to the old Central School near the Cathedral). After a couple years, the faculty deemed the activity too dangerous and discontinued it.
However, this did not stop the students in following years from carrying on their own war between the classes. They fought each other at prearranged locations blocks away from the school. Without supervision, the injuries increased – leaving the adults of that time with the challenge of curtailing the combat.
After the turn of the century, the activity evolved into “Sneak Day.” Students would collaborate to skip school on a certain day. Later events were called “Old Clothes Day” and “Costume Day.”
But by the 1920s, Principal Roberts had decided that the school’s previous early-May traditions needed to be more constructive.
Spearheaded by Roberts’ influence, in 1924, members of Helena High’s junior and senior classes determined that the annual early-May happening should combine the characteristics of previous activities (excluding the fistfights, of course). The result was a parade to display a historical representation “of the pioneer life of Last Chance Gulch” to the town’s citizens.
In 1974, brand new Capital High joined the festivities, and now both schools continue to carry on the brainchild of A.J. Roberts for the 93rd year: The Vigilante Parade.