The tramping of feet, the beat of a drum. That rat-a-tat-tat, the blare of a horn. You think Fourth of July and you think fireworks; parades are an afterthought at best. Theyre less spectacular, for the most part, so they make less of an immediate impression. Yet far more than fireworks, parades embody all the values we celebrate on Independence Day: pride in place, pride in craft, hard work, tenacity, diversity and unity.
Thanksgiving parades may be bigger and grander, but theyre nowhere near as common. Half a dozen communities in Anne Arundel and Calvert counties will stage parades this Fourth of July. Some will stretch for blocks, like dragons chasing their tails; others will be cozy and compact. Theyll include jugglers and clowns, pets and politicians, bicycles and lawnmowers, horses and motorcycles, marching bands and community groups.
Annapolis Loves a Parade
|Malones Jazzercise class danced in the streets at last years rained-out Annapolis parade.
photo courtesy of Lisa Malone
Like intrepid mail carriers, parades push past all adversity. Last year it rained on the Fourth and the city of Annapolis canceled its parade officially. But the parade took on a life of its own. The 606 Running Group ran the route, the Island Band walked it and Lisa Malones Jazzercise class danced in the streets.
We had a great time, said Mike Phillips, of the Island Band, which came all the way from Phoenix in the middle of New York. The band is made up of 25 to 30 state troopers, store managers, teachers and the like who travel to schools throughout New York state, trying to inspire kids with music. A few members have family in the Annapolis area and recalled the parade from summer vacations spent in Chesapeake Country.
Theres a huge crowd, Phillips remembers saying. Our challenge is to turn them on.
And so they did. The Island Band sat around the dorms at St. Johns last year, the parade canceled, thinking, Wow, we came this far and were not gonna do this. Then they noticed the sunshine streaming through the windows. They grabbed their instruments and headed down Main Street.
There were people coming out of everywhere, Phillips said, dancing in the streets and giving us high fives, and we just paraded to the Academy.
This year will be no different. Well be there with bells on, rain or shine, Phillips said.
In Annapolis, the parade steps off at 6:30pm on St. Johns Street and winds up College Avenue, around Church Circle, down Main Street and across City Dock to King George Street
.Charlie Kidd Loves a Parade
Annapolis has no monopoly on parades or enthusiasm. Every year, the members of the Galesville Heritage Society watch a steady stream of antique autos and flatbed trailers piled with kin before handing out prizes to the best parade entries. For three years running, the same person has taken those prizes home.
His name is Charlie Kidd, though as an immigrant from Deale hes known in Galesville only as Nancy Smiths husband, or more recently as The Parade Maker.
Charlie Kidd, with niece Amity Smiths help, has this year created a float for Galesvilles Fourth of July parade based on the long-defunct passenger steamboat Emma Giles.
photos by Kathy Smith
Kidds sister-in-law, Kathy Bergren Smith, says, His homemade floats for the annual fétè here in the village are so well engineered and perfectly executed, more than a few grumbles are heard among the crowds on the evening of the Fourth as he wheels out yet another winner: I thought this was for the kids; he had to have hired somebody, they say. But nope this is just his hobby.
A hobby that borders on obsession. Hell put 10 full days into this years float. Make that one of this years floats. Hes making two one a replica of the Emma Giles, the steamship that ferried passengers from Galesville to Baltimore, the other a recreation of Iwo Jima, with live models dressed in period fatigues. A UPS pilot with some seniority, Kidd asked to fly no further than Canada until both floats are finished. He likens his hobby to running.
You start jogging, he says, and end up running marathons.
For Kidd, jogging was a flightless biplane built on a flatbed trailer. The aerial theme was natural for a pilot, but Kidd also wanted to tip his hat to Galesvilles maritime heritage, so he gave the biplane oars for propellers. The next year he fashioned a stunning replica of the space shuttle Discovery. For the nose he used a plastic, igloo-shaped doghouse, painted black. The shuttle front landing gear emerged from the doghouse entrance.
It worked out perfect, he says.
Kidds next entry was a space station that he was less than happy with. The solar panels from that float now serve as bulwarks on the Emma Giles. Kidd uses simple tools (a hammer, a saw and an electric screwdriver) and simple techniques (like wetting wood to shape it) to turn common materials into uncommon works that can only be called art.
In Galesville, the parade starts at 7pm on Lerch Creek Drive and continues on Main Street and Galesville Road. Those streets close at 6pm, so you must be in town by then.
Earl Hargrove Misses a Parade
|Earl Hargrove, back to camera, built his business Hargrove Industries on floats, though his company now builds only a few for big events like presidential inaugurations and Thanksgiving Day parades.
photo by Brent Seabrook
Sitting in Kidds driveway off Cumberstone Road, the Emma Giles looks every bit as impressive as the Polynesian float being built for Philadelphias Thanksgiving parade by Hargrove Industries, in Prince Georges County. Unlike Kidd, who builds his floats alone, Lothian resident Earl Hargrove has 200 employees working for him, but few of those work on floats anymore; most of the companys work comes from trade shows. In fact, Hargrove hardly makes more floats than Kidd does, nowadays two or three for the Thanksgiving parade each year, one for the presidential inauguration every four years and an occasional special order. In fact, they account for only one-half of one percent of the companys sales.
There was a day when floats formed the backbone of the business. Hargroves father started the company as a window-dressing service when window displays were the primary method for selling retail products to customers. Then, in 1954, father and son began furnishing the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, the national Christmas tree in Washington and a circuit of parades around the Mid-Atlantic.
Now the company occupies a 35,000 square-foot plant the former Volkswagen of America parts distribution center that feels like a cross between Disneyland and Santas workshop. A red, white and blue breezeway leads to a labyrinth of cavernous warehouses, brimming with giant cowboy boots and glittering golden bulls. Like Kidd, Hargrove cannibalizes old floats. There are relics from the Rose Parade, festooned with wilted flowers, leaves and seeds. Life-sized South Park kids share shelves with King Kong, Al Capone and figures from the national nativity scene. Hallways are strewn with stuffed elephants and pirate ships.
Besides the warehouses, theres a metal shop, a wood shop, a print shop, a paint shop and an entire wing devoted to computer-assisted design. Hargroves designers work primarily on the trade show exhibits, though; he designs the floats himself, as he always has, bouncing ideas off a few long-time employees.
The price tag on a new Hargrove float starts at $25,000.
Weve priced ourselves out of the market, he laments.
Join a Parade
Of course, you dont need anything as pricey as a Hargrove float to take part in a Fourth of July parade. Follow Charlie Kidds lead. Borrow a flatbed trailer from your favorite farmer. Use light materials and keep your weight balanced. Learn from Earl Hargroves mistakes and buy a set of quality tires.
More important than anything is safety. Make sure your riders are secure. Think about all that plywood and all those paper decorations before rigging any lights or electrical devices; then check your wires and connections carefully.
If any kind of float sounds too expensive, too time consuming, or too dangerous, remember that community parades are comprised largely of decorated bicycles and lawnmowers, horses and motorcycles, marching bands and community groups. Whatever you do, put some thought into it, Earl Hargrove says.
Thats what Lisa Malone did in rechoreographing her dance-based aerobic program and the routines for forward movement. Sixty or so of Malones students have danced along the Annapolis parade route for 13 or 14 years now. She hasnt had any trouble finding volunteers to drive the music truck, either.
|Rain or shine, dozens of Lisa Malones Jazzercise students turn out for Annapolis 4th of July parade.
photo courtesy of Mike Phillips and the Island Band
Its so much fun, Malone says. I think everybody enjoys being part of a parade.
It is so much fun, to dance down Main Street, agrees Valerie Lester, who calls herself one of the Jazzercise groups older members. Theres no traffic, and youve got this great view from the top looking out over the water. Even in the rain its fun. In fact, its even better, because youre cool.
Besides fun, some of Malones students also see the parade as a personal challenge. Some want to show how much fun exercise can be. Some are proud to be a part of the Jazzercise organization. Some like the applause from the crowd. And some say its the patriotic thing to do. This year, theyll be looking especially patriotic, wearing red, white and blue t-shirts, tie-died by one of the members.
Charlie Kidds friend, artist Carole Bolsey, reveals another motive.
Charlie is a very creative guy, she says, and this is a perfect way for him to express.
You dont participate to win a prize, Mike Phillips adds. You participate to be a part of the community, to say, This is America, and we just want to be part of it.
Shady Side, especially, hopes youll be part of it this year. Parade coordinators are still looking for volunteers and paraders especially a band (301/261-5546).
In the wake of last September, Leanne Bogun, coordinator of this years Annapolis parade, says groups should strive for a sense of unity. Malone agrees, hence the tie-dyed T-shirts.
In the spirit of reinforcing feelings of belonging, Severna Park has adopted United We Stand as the theme that helps unite all the participants in its 28-year-old parade.
Annapolis Bogun also suggests bribing the crowd with candy. Political candidate Peter Perry took that one step further when he took part in a Crofton parade on Armed Forces Day. Perry sent volunteers ahead of the parade with plastic bags to hold the candy to be passed out. Of course, there were political messages written on the bags.
Perry also warns against tossing candy from a moving vehicle.
|Severna Park children gather on the B&A Trail for their parade.
photo courtesy of Severna Park Chamber of Commerce
Give kids candy instead of throwing it like some Roman emperor, he says. Its more work, but its more fun. You get out of a parade what you put into it.
Mike Phillips, of the Island Band, also likes to interact with the crowd.
Well grab someone out of the street and dance withm, he says. The trumpet players go into the crowd and play. We like to be interactive like that.
Perry also suggests comfortable shoes, sunblock and fresh water. Lisa Malone agrees and suggests fresh fruit, as well.
Perry, Malone, Phillips, Hargrove and even Charlie Kidd all agreed on one thing: keep it simple.
Yeah, right, Kathy Smith says, eyeing Kidds latest masterpiece.
In Severna Park, the parade starts at 10am from St. Martins-in-the-Field Episcopal Church and Our Shepherd Lutheran Church and continues to Park Plaza, where begins a spirited street festival.
In Shady Side, the annual parade leaves at 10am from the post office and winds its way to the Kiwanis Club on Snug Harbor Road.
|The Island Band, which came to Annapolis last July 4 from Phoenix, New York, headed down Main Street during a break in a mostly rainy day.
photo courtesy of Mike Phillips and the Island Band
We All Love a Parade
Simplest of all is kicking back and watching the parade go by. Whats a parade, after all, without spectators? Whether we march down the street or watch from the curb, whether we watch in Annapolis or Galesville, Severna Park or Shady Side or even Washington, D.C., doesnt matter. What matters is getting out and standing shoulder to shoulder with our neighbors.
Parades bring an entire community together in a way that fireworks dont. Marching in a parade or even watching one is a participatory event. Were not passively watching a spectacle unfold in the sky, our faces hidden in the darkness.
No, our faces are turned to the sun. Were looking at one another, laughing together, celebrating our unity. Rich and poor, black and white, Democrat and Republican. For one hour every July, were all simply Americans.