On July 14, 1789, the common people of France stormed the Bastille, overthrowing the monarchy, and the French never forgot it.
Neither have the somewhat uncommon people of Frenchtown.
Each year on the date, the spirit soars from the romantic boulevards of Paris to the Joseph Aubain Ballpark parking lot on St. Thomas where, for the last 50 or 60 years, the island’s French community jumps up with music, food and fantasy.
If they aren’t already, everyone if French for the night.
Friday’s celebration saw something new – the unveiling of a new Eiffel Tower at the entrance to Frenchtown. Created by Allan Richardson, the tower is a duplicate to the one standing in front of the Frenchtown Museum, beckoning one into the French village, Carenage.
With proper pomp it was blessed by the Reverend Touchard Tignoua Goula and christened by Destini M. Petersen, this year’s Ms. Carenage, along with other dignitaries.
After the brief ceremony, the group marched back to the ballpark to celebrate the special day.
While the ceremony was more modest this year, with folks huddled under the concession stand to escape the rain rather than spreading out over the the parking lot, it marked a sentimental occasion in the Frenchtown Civic Organization’s history, as one of its founding members, Pierre “Pete” Ledee, was presented with the Above and Beyond award. It was only the second time the award has been issued. The first was presented to the late Sen. Lorraine Berry.
While museum manager Roy Magras hosted the festivities, FTCO president Henry Richardson presented the award, citing fond memories.
Noting their long and checkered history together since Ledee hired Richardson at age 16, to a 75 cents an hour job stocking his father’s bar and grocery, where Ledee expected him to spell things correctly – even on the scrap of brown paper Richardson used.
As an aside, Richardson, after a long career in finance, now owns the Victory Bar, now called La Petite Fenetre.
“Nothing happens in Frenchtown Pete isn’t aware of. If a streetlight goes out, call Pete; if there’s too much noise in one of the local bars, call Pete,” even if he may be in that bar.
Ledee also was a musician, playing guitar with WSTA’s fifties radio program, The Drifting Bucaroos, until he was drafted for the Korean War.
“Pete started Fathers Day celebration held by the Committee for the Betterment of Carenage, the forerunner of the FTCO, and ran his father’s business,the Victory Bar for years, where you would eventually meet all your friends,” Richardson said.
Ledee also supported the Softball League in Frenchtown, helped develop the Annual Fishing Tournament, and, of course, the Moby Dick carnival troupe.
Born in Frenchtown, he is part of the soil the community is built on.
Richardson held back a few tears as he presented the award.
Ledee’s wife,Rebecca, stood by his side as he accepted the honor. She confided that she had a hard time getting her husband to the celebration.
“He doesn’t like recognition,”she said.
Well, it was thrust upon him, nonetheless, and he offered a smile or two, as did everyone else, dancing to the music of Michael Thomas, the One Man Band, while savory hors d’oeuvre served by the FTCO youngsters circulated through the crowd.
The dancing was started off by the legendary “Lellel” Aubain, who never lets a tune go unheralded by a footstep or two.
Bastille Day festivities were scheduled to wind up Sunday with the annual Kingfish Tournament at Hull Bay.