Parading with the Pirates: You’re ‘never too old’ to join the fun at Decatur’s Carnegie Carnival

By Catherine Godbey | Living 50 Plus

Dressed in tricorn hats, bandanas, frock coats, flowy lace-up shirts and skeleton accessories — the typical wardrobe for a Decatur pirate — members of Crewe O’ Ye Crooked Goat entertain and amuse crowds at the Mardi Gras-style Carnegie Carnival parade every year.

Consisting mainly of individuals 50 and older, the camaraderie, creativity and opportunity to give back to the arts attracted many of the 30-plus members to Crewe O’ Ye Crooked Goat, also known as the pirates.

“You can be a one-time pirate or you can be an every week pirate. But if you are a one-time pirate, you’re really missing the boat. We have so much fun being together and creating things,” said Steve Reed, chief of the crewe — or captain, if you will.

To find the crewe, keep an eye out for the 14-foot-wide by 55-foot-long pirate ship built around an RV frame.

A charter member of the pirates, Reed, who will celebrate his 62nd birthday Feb. 18, became involved in Carnegie Carnival thanks to his wife Mary Reed, a local artist and exhibit coordinator with the Carnegie Visual Arts Center.

The Carnegie, a nonprofit arts center in Decatur, founded Carnegie Carnival in 2012 as a way to raise funds. The event, which over the past 10 years transformed into a culturally and economically significant event for the city, has netted more than $900,000.

When Mary Reed approached her husband and her brother, Brian Keith, about forming a crewe for the parade, the men responded enthusiastically.

The idea for the crewe and the float stemmed from the Reeds’ annual New Year’s Eve party which, for several years prior to the inaugural Carnegie Carnival, centered around pirates.

“We’re always big on set decorations, so for the New Year’s Eve party, Brian and I used an old fence to form the bow of a ship on our back patio,” Steve Reed said. “When the idea of a parade float came up, we took those fence boards and put it on a trailer. It was something creative and fun to do together. We had an absolute blast.”

The first ship consisted of old fence boards and cardboard filter boxes on an 8-by-10-foot trailer. The following year, the crewe upgraded to an 8-by-16-foot trailer. After the third Carnegie Carnival, the crewe built a wooden pirate ship around the frame of a 30-foot 1989 RV.

“We really needed something permanent we could run around on and act the fools on,” Reed said.

Due to structural issues and rotting wood, the crewe rebuilt the ship after last year’s Carnegie Carnival. Every Saturday and Sunday, members gathered at Reed’s Pool Doctors business to re-create the ship.

In place of the wood, the crewe used a steel frame and foam painted like wood, which allows more pirates, up to 16, to ride on the ship. Previously, only eight pirates could ride due to the weight of the ship.

“It’s quite an impressive ship,” said Michael Manley, a first-year pirate. “It was a good year to join because I got to help build the new ship. Getting to be a part of that and meeting everybody, it feels like I’ve found a second family.”

The 56-year-old Manley, a Decatur native who moved back to his hometown in August 2020 after 25 years in Nashville, joined the pirate crewe as a way to support the arts and develop relationships.

“When I left Decatur, there wasn’t much of an arts scene. The Carnegie was not even established,” Manley said. “I had been following the Carnegie page on Facebook and knew if I ever moved back here, one of the first things I would do is connect with them. They are my kind of people. Art has been a passion of mine as long as I can remember. The Carnegie has filled such a vast hole in Decatur.”

Preparing costumes

Along with helping to rebuild the ship, Manley, to prepare for the parade, visited thrift stores and ordered pieces online to create his pirate outfit.

“The one thing everyone told me I needed was a good pair of boots, especially if you’re going to be walking,” Manley said.

Like Manley, Kathy Manning scours thrift stores and sale racks to create her pirate outfits, which now number four.

“We don’t wear the pirate costumes you see at Halloween. I pulled together my first outfit out of the costume closet I had for my kids from when they were in plays for the past 30 years. The thrift stores are also a great place to look. Once you start piecing the costumes together, all of a sudden you have four outfits to choose from. We’re just a lot of adults who love to dress up,” Manning said.

This marks Manning’s sixth year with Crewe O’ Ye Crooked Goat. While she joined along with her close friends Doug Maze and Penny Linville, the other crewe members were unknown to her.

“Being part of this crewe has been one of the best things in my life. I was born and raised in Decatur. I have met people on this crewe, who were also born and raised in Decatur, that I would have never met. I have formed some of my best friendships here,” the 64-year-old Manning said. “One of the things I love is there is no age maximum. You’re never too old to be part of a crewe.”

The 2022 Carnegie Carnival, which will take place Feb. 26, includes a children’s parade, a canine parade and an evening parade.

“I’ve been looking forward to the parade for months. This will be my first real time experiencing Carnegie Carnival since last year was toned down because of COVID,” Manley said.

Due to the pandemic, the floats remained stationary while cars drove past during last year’s Carnegie Carnival. No beads, MoonPies or other items were thrown.

Full-speed ahead

Plans for this year’s celebration include typical parades, with floats winding down Bank Street and Second Avenue, said Kim Mitchell, executive director of the Carnegie Visual Arts Center. That delighted many crewe members.

“My favorite part of the Carnegie Carnival season are the parades. I like to walk beside our ship as opposed to riding on it because I see so many friends from throughout my life. I love to see how excited the kids get and to see the older people with their family. It feels real good to make sure they get some beads or a MoonPie. It makes people smile and I love it,” Manning said.

While Steve Reed enjoys the entire Carnegie Carnival day, he looks forward to the children’s parade the most.

“When we get done with the parade, we park the ship at the end of the route and let kids run around on the ship. When you see the absolute joy and amazement on their faces and see their imaginations going, you can’t help but fall in love with it,” he said. “The first time we did the kids’ parade, I thought it would be a hassle. It’s turned out to be one of my favorite moments of the day.”

The 2022 Carnegie Carnival schedule for Feb. 26 includes the Carnival Frolic half-marathon at 7 a.m., Mardi Grass bluegrass bands beginning at noon at the Brick Deli, children’s games and art station at 12:30 p.m. at the Morgan County-Decatur Farmers Market, the prince and princess parade at 12:30 p.m., the canine parade at 2:30 p.m. and the Carnegie Carnival parade at 6 p.m.

For individuals interested in joining a crewe, Manning offered this encouragement.

“Do it. It’s for such a good cause. It does your heart good to be involved and do something for the community. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun,” Manning said.

Proceeds from Carnegie Carnival will benefit the Carnegie Visual Arts Center, CASA of North Alabama and Track My Paws.