In a city where the NYPD hands out parade permits to hundreds of ethnic and civic groups, it refused one for a patriotic organization that wanted, for the first time since 1983, to mark the anniversary of the British departure from New York after the American Revolution.
Somehow, a parade once every 25 years to commemorate an admittedly obscure event in American history called Evacuation Day was deemed one march too many.
Instead, the police suggested that the 132-year-old organization called the Sons of the Revolution stage a gathering in Battery Park at the lower tip of Manhattan.
For whatever reason, the organization whose very name symbolizes rebellion against tyranny said it would not appeal. And it now appears that no defiance was necessary. On Wednesday, after a story about the parade request in the New York Sun, the NYPD somewhat mysteriously reversed itself and granted the permit after all.
Thus the Sons of the Revolution will march on Nov. 22 down Broadway from City Hall to the park, where re-enactors in period costumes will lower a Union Jack and raise the Stars and Stripes in a symbolic reprise of what happened in 1783. British and French diplomats will be among those invited to take part.
John Mauk Hilliard, the organization's president, said there had been informal discussions with city officials "to see if anything could be done to facilitate our request." He declined to be more specific.
Paul Browne, the NYPD's chief spokesman, said the original denial stemmed from a recent policy barring new parades in the city, which yearly hosts more than 150 such events with 1,000 or more participants, plus hundreds of smaller ones.
However, Browne said, officials "took another look and decided that because this group had a parade 25 years ago, this would not be a new parade and could be grandfathered in."
Evacuation Day refers to the day 225 years ago when King George III's fleet finally sailed for home under terms of the Treaty of Paris that had formally ended the American Revolution two months earlier.
According to historians, resentful redcoats tried to spoil the patriots' big day by running a Union Jack up the flagpole at Bowling Green in lower Manhattan, cutting the rope and greasing the wooden pole so nobody could climb it.
But Yankee ingenuity prevailed over British petulance as a young sailor named John Van Arsdale devised iron cleats to scale the pole, tore down the British flag and nailed up a Stars and Stripes in its place "to the approbation of the crowd," Hilliard said.
While the term Evacuation Day is likely to draw blank stares from most people today, Hilliard said it was a major public holiday for 30 years after 1876, when the Sons of the Revolution was founded in New York. It was shelved during World War I to avoid offending the British, then America's allies in war for the first time. The only public event since was the 1983 bicentennial parade.
The Sons of the Revolution Web site says the group is "devoted to educating the public about the struggle to achieve American liberty." The New York branch has 940 members, all of whom can prove lineal descent from someone who fought in the rebellion or "otherwise placed themselves at risk for the American cause."
In addition to preserving the history of Evacuation Day, the group erected a statue of spy Nathan Hale near City Hall, and helped block the demolition of Fraunces Tavern, a Manhattan landmark where Gen. George Washington in 1783 delivered a stirring farewell to his officers.
Upstairs at the restored tavern, which the group now owns, is a museum with some 200 Revolutionary War flags and a collection of weapons, uniforms and other artifacts. Downstairs is a popular restaurant with a colonial motif and a 10-ounce cheeseburger that, despite its $14 price tag, might be reason enough for any revolution.