4th of July Parade to Celebrate the Bicentennial of - Who?

Agoston Haraszthy may not be a household name in any other city, but in Sonoma he's a worth a parade, a play and probably a limerick or two.

When the first flag comes down 1st Street East at 10 a.m. next Wednesday, July 4, the would ask that you think about Agoston Haraszthy, or the Count as his friends called him. It'll be tough, of course - most of the local and visiting spectators will probably be thinking patriotic thoughts of barbecue, beer and fireworks. That, and America's 236th Birthday.

But 2012 also marks the bicentennial of Count Haraszthy's birth, although his actual birth date comes on August 30. Still, Haraszthy's legacy to Sonoma Valley, and the nation's wine industry, is worth celebrating, and (founded as Buena Vista Winery by said Hungarian in 1857) will be sponsoring several Haraszthy-related activities.

When Sonoma Patch first started, James Golway answered the question " with an extended biography of Agoston Haraszthy, the 'Father of California Viticulture.' Of course, no one in Sonoma needs a refresher on Haraszthy, where his name is spoken with the same reverence usually reserved for Mariano G. Vallejo or John C. Fremont. It's just not as easy to pronounce.

But for those handful of visitors who may wonder what all the fuss is about, we offer this brief summary:

A minor Hungarian nobleman, Haraszthy got on the bad side of the ruling Habsburgs due to what he called, 'my liberal political activities.'…

Often referred to as Count, Haraszthy was no European dandy. He was a crack shot and a renowned outdoorsman. Haraszthy once was attacked by a wolf and killed the animal with his bare hands.

Among the many other unbelievable accomplishments that Golway enumerated were founding the oldest village in Wisconsin, operating the first steamboat on the Upper Mississippi, writing a best-selling travel book, leading a wagon train to San Diego (where he became the town's first marshal and later county sheriff), moving to Sonoma where he married off two of his sons to Gen. Vallejo's daughters, starting Buena Vista Winery, and importing 300 varietals for wine making, among which was probably zinfandel.

Those are the high points, of course. There are a few low points - he went bankrupt a time or two, was charged in federal court with embezzlement, and presumably was killed by an alligator in Nicaragua. And even if he did bring zinfandel to the New World, he was probably not the first to do so. Still, you got to give the guy credit: he was a mensch.

Somehow the Buena Vista players with local walking, talking historian George Abbott in the role, intend to convey this colorful character into a presentation on the Plaza amphitheater stage at noon on the Fourth, following a patriotic ceremony at 11:45.

But wait, there's more. Members of the Haraszthy family, including Vicki and Val Haraszthy, will serve as grand marshals in the 2012 4th of July parade, which starts at 10 am at Spain and 1st East.

Not to be outdone by mere blood relations, the Sonoma Community Center's float in the parade will be an 18-foot tall Count Haraszthy Puppet.

In fact, parade participants are encouraged to create entries and floats that celebrate Count Agoston Haraszthy. (You'd better get started: Deadline for parade entries is Monday, July 2.)

No word yet whether or not the live bands, the Don Giovannis (at 1 pm) or the Saddle Cats (at 3) will include Haraszthy tributes. Rhyming might prove challenging, of course.

Probably places and events that will escape the influence of the noble Hungarian would be the many food and game booths in the Plaza, open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.; and the fireworks themselves, presented by the SVVFD at about 9:30 in the evening.

For more information, contact the Sonoma Community Center by email at scc@vom.com, by phone at (707) 938-4626 x 1, or come by the office at 276 East Napa Street.

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