Procession of the Species is Saturday. Here’s what to know

The last time the Procession of the Species walked, danced and rolled its way through the streets of Olympia, Alan Jackson had a vision.

In truth, Jackson had the vision after the Procession, while he was drinking a beer.

“I said to my buddy, ‘You know, next year I’m going to make an armadillo, and I’m going to put it in there,’ ” he told The Olympian. “It was just a harebrained thought. I’d seen armadillos in other parts of the country, usually squashed on the side of the road.”

The idea might have been a funny one, but Jackson — who had been in the Procession once or twice when his son Lewis was young, but had never done an art project for it — took the undertaking seriously, doing research and carefully planning how to engineer the creature.

He spent a good chunk of 2019 and early 2020 designing and building a 12-foot-long puppet that can move its head, walk on burlap-wrapped human legs and poop Tootsie Roll candies. (“We’re going to leave the wrappers on,” he said.)

“I spent hundreds and hundreds of hours putting papier-mâché on it,” he said. “It would take me six hours just to do one layer. I used over three gallons of Elmer’s glue.”

He also used many, many copies of The Olympian, according to Marina Parr, his wife and a former journalist. “This is another reason that people should take a printed newspaper,” she said. “You won’t be able to build a giant armadillo unless you subscribe to The Olympian.”

Then COVID-19 arrived, squashing Jackson’s dream of Procession glory. The armadillo, which had taken over his garage, went into storage.

But this Saturday, the seven-banded armadillo will finally take to the streets, powered by Alan and Lewis, now 24. They’ll wear backpack frames attached to the inside of the creature’s scaly body and cardboard claws around their ankles. “The person in back is the one who controls the poop chute,” Alan Jackson said.

The creature will join such stalwart Procession creations as the lion, the rhino and the Sun and regular Procession bands Artesian Rumble Arkestra (dressed this year as crabs) and Samba Olywa (welcoming the event back as sunflowers).

Also rolling down the street will be four new large floats, one for each the elements used to organize the Procession: Earth will include a snail, a mushroom and ferns; Air will feature birds, clouds and storms; Water’s display is a jumping humpback whale; and Fire focuses on endangered species with a beehive.

The idea of the floats is to give Procession newcomers a focus and some costume ideas.

“There are a lot of people who haven’t seen the Procession,” said Eli Sterling, the event’s founder. “It is a little bit like in the very beginning where people were trying to figure it out.”

Other creations making their debut include a king salmon, a butterfly created by puppet master Jerry Berebitsky, and an enormous geoduck — Jackson’s second Procession project.

“It’s got a clamshell that’s probably 4 feet from top to bottom,” Jackson said. “The neck goes up around 6 or 7 feet, and under perfect conditions, it actually squirts water.”

“It can be seen for miles,” Parr said. “It’s a very pronounced phallic symbol. I showed some pictures of it to my family back in Michigan, and they said, ‘What’s Alan doing walking around with that penis?’ ”

Parr’s son, Jackson Parr, 21, will be wearing the puppet. “Jackson goes to Evergreen, so he is a geoduck,” she said. “He’ll be a geoduck wearing a geoduck.”

Procession of the Species

  • What: The 26th Procession fills downtown Olympia’s streets with flora, fauna, floats, music and dance in a celebration of Earth and its elements.

  • When: 4:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27

  • Where: Begins at Cherry Street and Legion Way and ends in Heritage Park.

  • Donations: Donations to the Thurston County Food Bank are requested. Bring them to Legion and Cherry.

  • Rules: No motorized vehicles except wheelchairs, no live animals except service animals and no words are permitted in the Procession.

  • More information:

Luminary Procession

  • What: A smaller evening procession during the first evening of Arts Walk celebrates the element of spirit with illuminated lanterns, music and dance.

  • When: 8:30 p.m. Friday, April 26

  • Where: Begins at Fifth Avenue and Washington Street and proceeds to Sylvester Park

  • Also: The event is weather-dependent because the luminary art can’t withstand heavy rain.

Here’s the map of the routes for Saturday’s Procession of the Species, and for Friday night’s Luminary Procession.
Here’s the map of the routes for Saturday’s Procession of the Species, and for Friday night’s Luminary Procession.