Whether it’s a small town tradition or city-wide celebration you seek, check out some of these local favorites:
Glen Arbor’s Fourth of July parade celebrates its 51st anniversary this year. Organizer Stan Brubaker has kept an eye on things since the initial parade in 1964. He still maintains an active role, riding his yellow moped around it to keep things in line.
There’s no entry fee or official rules – heck, there’s not even an official sign-up, and its entries vary from year to year. Politicians, floats blasting music or water, a kazoo band, a lawnmower drill team, fire trucks and Jerry Decker of Decker’s Pumping Service, who throws rolls of toilet paper. The parade begins in Glen Haven and passes through Glen Arbor.
The Empire Anchor Day Parade is held the third Saturday in July. The town’s Twice- Around Parade has been a tradition since 1978, celebrating the recovery of a massive ship’s anchor in Lake Michigan the year before. And yes, it typically winds through downtown twice.
The parade’s theme is often nautical in nature, a natural given that it is Anchor Day, though a few years ago the theme was Christmas in July.
Cross Village hosts an Independence Day parade, usually held on the Saturday closest to the Fourth of July. Founder Gene Reck says the parade starts at 1pm, goes through town one time, then returns to the starting point, which is just outside Three Pines Studio, the gallery he owns with his wife Joann Condino. Again, there are no rules or registrations. Just line up and have fun.
In Charlevoix, the two veterans’ clubs (the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion) take turns hosting the Fourth of July parade. Joe Seidel, the commander of the American Legion post, says there wasn’t one last year, but this year’s will take place at 10am starting at the hall on Garfield Ave.
He says there are no fees or applications. “It’s an open invitation,” he said.
If you’re into parades in Charlevoix, however, a memorable one takes place during the Venetian Festival, July 19-26. The ornate and popular Venetian boat parade dates back 84 years, when it was first held at the end of a yachting event with the Belvedere Club and the Chicago Club. The street parade begins at 11am on July 26 and the boat parade at 10pm that same day, just prior to the festival’s concluding fireworks display.
If you like your parades big, then Traverse City’s National Cherry Festival is your kind of event. The Junior Royale Parade takes place on the Thursday of the festival; this year, that’s July 10, beginning at 6:30pm. One of the country’s only kids’ parades, it features the National Cherry Festival Prince and Princess court, representing 26 different local elementary schools, each honoring a different Michigan children’s book author. Other entry categories include bikes, cherry people, cardboard floats, pets, and more.
Two days later, the Cherry Royale parade takes place. The largest parade in Northern Michigan, it boasts marching bands, corporate floats and entries, and the cherry queen and her court, traveling down Front and Union Streets. This year’s parade boasts 145 entries. Thousands of people view it from sidewalks and stores, homes and rooftops.
“We like to keep it around 140 entries,” says Mandy DePuy, the festival’s ticketing and events manager. “That keeps it to a two-and-a-half, three-hour parade.”
Many of the towns that hold Independence Day parades follow up in the evening with fireworks, such as Beulah, Frankfort, and Boyne City. Leland and Bay Harbor have parades on the Fourth, but the fireworks are the night before.
Formerly Famous Horton Bay Parade Dead... For Now
Tiny Horton Bay was famed far and wide for its July Fourth parade, even generating write-ups in the Chicago Tribune.
Chip Lorenger, owner of the Horton Bay General Store, says he has photos in the store of a parade in 1925.
“So it dates back at least that far,” he said. It took off in the 1970s, and Lorenger says it came to its greatest fame in the 80s and 90s. It boasted such entries as a T-Rex and a volcano that spewed ash and lava.
There were silent marching bands, kings and queens on thrones – the kind found in rest rooms – as well as other creative and occasionally tasteless floats.
Given the town’s featured status in Ernest Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories and the author’s own visits there, Hemingway inspired floats were common, but with an unpredictable and absurd edge.
For example, one was a man carrying a giant letter C, to represent “The Old Man and the Sea.” Another featured a giant walking cardboard carton with a dozen madly waving arms sticking out of it for “A Farewell to Arms.”
As many as 10,000 people would line the streets, walking in from miles away where they had to park.
The parade began petering out following the death of organizer John Hartwell in 1999.
“All good things must come to pass,” Lorenger said. “It died a graceful death six years ago.”
In its wake is the Horton Bay Non-Parade. Lorenger and his friends sit in their lawn chairs facing the road from noon- 2pm, waving at cars as they pass by.
“When they ask us what we’re doing, we tell them, ‘Thanks for being in our parade,’” he said.
Will the parade ever return? There remains a possibility, but the wise would be advised to not hold their breath.
“Everybody wants to see the parade resurrected,” Lorenger said. “But it would have to equal what it was.”
Parade Mystery: Where Have All The Williams Brothers' Floats Gone?
One item missing these days from the National Cherry Festival is the Williams brothers’ floats, which for 22 years were a mystery entry.
The floats gleefully satirized everyone and everything. John Robert Williams and David Williams used their art background and zany sense of humor to come up with ridiculously punny entries such as the Hay Fever Queens (which featured synchronized sneezing by the court) and a Weber Grill team.
“We had the Charcoal Briquettes and a grill sergeant. He was actually a former marine drill sergeant,” said John Williams.
A half-mile of the Nile featured an Egyptian theme, with marchers hoisting a long blue swath of fabric meant to represent the famed river.
Williams says they kept their float under wraps, mailing in registration forms from distant towns and unveiling it only when the parade began. He says they often broke the rules of height, width or length restrictions, always in good fun.
Their last entry came in 2001. By then, the cost for creating the float and costuming and feeding all its participants had grown to the point they couldn’t afford it anymore.
Though the Williams brothers have left the parade route, the parade itself marches on.
left: The late Dr. Ken Taylor was a participant in several of the Williams brothers’ floats.
right: The Nile River as imagined by John Robert and David Williams.