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Don't try to fool Joe Lassiter.
The 6-year-old from Northwood knew that wasn't a real dog that floated above him at about the height of a housetop during the Downtown Holiday Parade Saturday.
"He's just a balloon," said Joe, who admired the display nonetheless. "They spinned him around."
The dog helium balloon carrying a giant rolled-up Blade newspaper was one of at least 70 entries in a parade that entertained thousands of people lining Summit Street, Jackson Boulevard, and Huron Street.
The crowd stood several people deep almost the entire route of the parade that was sponsored by The Blade, Buckeye CableSystem, and Taylor Automotive Group.
Blade Advertising Manager Mike Mori promised the parade would be the biggest yet, and some of the parade spectators agreed.
"Most definitely, there's a lot more stuff, it's a lot better than last year," said James Fink of Byrne Road, who said he and his fiancee, Shelly Toda, attend the parade annually.
They brought children and nephews along to share in the annual tradition.
"It gets you in the holiday spirit with the kids," Ms. Toda said.
Parade entries included high school marching bands; Shriners in minicars and Jeepsters; the cast of A Christmas Carol by Toledo Repertoire Theatre; City Council members; a helium nutcracker balloon; police, fire, and water department units; horses and ponies; motorcycles; clowns, and, of course, Santa Claus bringing up the rear.
Joe Lassiter came with his mom, Chrissy Vogelpohl; dad, Matt Lassiter, and brother, Jackson, 1.
"I came when I was a kid, but this is the first one I've been to since I was about 13," Ms. Vogelpohl said. "I thought it would be a good way to get the kids into the holiday spirit."
Mayor Carty Finkbeiner was one of the lead-off marchers with a Toledo Pride float, while Mayor-elect Mike Bell walked closer to the end, acknowledging cheers in his University of Toledo baseball cap.
Friends Abbey Schell, 22, and Marissa Stevenson, 27, who live downtown in the Commodore Perry Apartments, figured it would be easy to find a seat on the curb.
"It's more than I thought would show up," Ms. Stevenson said. "We should have got here earlier." As downtown residents, both were glad to see the activity.
The weather was cold and sunny but maybe not cold enough for Leo Brent, 52, and Debbie Miller, 53, who walked the route and sold cups of hot chocolate from Coney Island Hot Dogs on Superior Street, as they have done for more than 20 years.
"It's a pretty good-sized crowd. Kids like it. That's what a parade is all about - kids," Mr. Brent said.
Shriners driving little red cars dazzled Devon Ezell, 10, and his siblings and cousins. They stood in the shadow of the LaSalle Apartments on Huron while the car drivers zipped around in figure eights and other intricate paths, narrowly missing each other.
"It was sweet. It was radical," Devon said. He spent the night in the LaSalle with his cousin and her family.
Diane and Peter Fuhlbrigge of Columbus brought their dog, Clifford, adopted from a pound in Franklin County. Clifford let Mayor Finkbeiner pet him but growled at one of the clowns who tried to give candy to one of their daughters, Ms. Fuhlbrigge said. The family was in town visiting Mr. Fuhlbrigge's mother, Margaret Hodges of Ottawa Hills, and came to the parade as they do every other year.
"Dogs are fun at parades," Ms. Fuhlbrigge said. "All the people wave at the dog."
Sheila Thomas, 23, came to the parade as a child and had to bring her daughter, Eban, 4, after she asked to go.
"She saw Sponge Bob in the paper. She said, 'I want to go where he's at,' so I said I'll take her to the parade," Ms. Thomas said. Parade Marshal Sponge Bob Square Pants rode in an open Cadillac.
Melanie Lutman, and children Michael, 11, and Bailey, 10, came only because Ms. Lutman heard the parade mentioned while she was working Friday night at the Lucas County Arena.
"I switched my whole work schedule around so I could be here. This is our first parade, so I'm super-excited," she said.
Before the parade 10 families had breakfast with Santa at the Imagination Station, a privilege granted them as winners of a contest.
Mr. Mori estimated the crowd at about 30,000, or about twice what he thought turned out last year.
Many of the parade-goers with children next went to Kris Kringle Village in the Erie Street Market. The village featured children's activities, ice-carving demonstrations, and a display by the Imagination Station. Horse-drawn carriages provided tours from the market.
Santa Claus put in a long day, first hosting, then riding in the parade on a sleigh, and then having children sit on his lap for five hours.
One of those children was Anderson Jachimiak, 2, of Port Clinton, with his mother, Rachel Stewart, and father Jim Jachimiak. Anderson's plan while waiting about a half-hour in line was to ask for "some trucks."
Anderson ran up and gave Santa a hug, and then asked for trucks and Play-Doh.
An older youth, Machiah Lojewski, 12, of Walbridge, didn't plan to sit on Santa's lap but did so when Santa made him - and to be a good example for his three cousins.
He said Santa asked if he was good and ate his vegetables.
"I said no and he said that's not right," Machiah said.
Santa is played by - don't let the children read this - Timothy Stapleton, 70, of Oregon, who has been the holiday parade Santa for 18 years, according to family members, who were taking orders on a book soon to be published about his experiences, A View From Santa's Knee.
Contact Tom Troy at: