At 5 p.m. sharp on Wednesday, crowds in Norwich, England, gathered to see the Olympic torch arrive at the Queen’s summer estate. Crowds in front of New England televisions watched the Red Sox play in Oakland. And in Edgartown, a downtown crowd waited anxiously for the first notes of the annual Fourth of July parade.
The crowd contained a diverse group of spectators who had joined to celebrate the 236th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
One notable person in attendance was Dr. James A. Wolff, who recently celebrated his 98th birthday. Dr. Wolff is a World War II veteran who earned a Silver Star for his service as an army officer. He has sat on Edgartown sidewalks to watch the parade for over 50 years.
“The parade has always been a really great thing here in Edgartown,” he said as he waited for his fellow veterans to begin their march.
“This is such a great place for families,” Mr. Wolff’s son added. The parade is a tradition we never miss.”
And while Mr. Wolff sat in his wheelchair recalling a lifetime of service as a proud American, Nora Leigh Case sat in her mother’s lap, yet to form any Fourth of July memories. This was Nora’s first parade, and an early birthday party for her first full year as an American.
“She turns one on Monday,” said her mother, Julie Case. “We have to start her young! We come every year.” Adam Case, Nora’s father, added, “We’ve come for 10 years now. Two years ago we tried the parade at home in southern New Hampshire. It didn’t come close.”
Mr. Case looked down as a child sporting a tricolor wig, blue flashing light-up glasses and a thick layer of striped face paint scurried past. “There’s enough spirit here to go around,” Mr. Case said.
The masked wanderer that caught Mr. Case’s attention wasn’t the only patriotic sight to behold. Kids in Uncle Sam hats half as tall as their bodies sat on their parents’ shoulders. Several pairs of matching siblings sat like sardines on blankets and curbs. Ashley Casey, eight, of Oak Bluffs even spray-painted her dog Zipper for the occasion. The furry flag was one of many canines dressed for the occasion in some way.
Spectator enthusiasm only increased when the parade marched by. People yelled “thank you!” to the lines of veterans. The sheriff, donning his traditional top hat and tails, met a continuous round of applause. Polished antique cars honked their horns and town selectmen waved from the seats. And the floats kept the crowd smiling, laughing and scrounging around their feet for candy.
Camp Jabberwocky took home the grand prize for their Olympic-themed (yet of course Jabberwockified) float. The float was constructed overnight by campers and sleepless counselors. They decided to not just honor the London Olympics and Team USA, but all the world’s teams and a conglomeration of just about every sport imaginable.
Camper Faith Carter has been coming to the Island for 38 years. Dressed as a Brazilian ring gymnast, she joked, “I’ve been training four years for this one!” Counselor Hannah Trumbull helped Ms. Carter with the costume, which included a large cardboard backdrop and high-heeled red shoes.
There was also a team of Jamaican bobsledders, some curlers, swimmers and runners. Camp Jabberwocky director Johanna (Jojo) Romero de Slavy could be seen smiling during the whole last-minute “mad dash,” as she called it, to prepare for the judging. “This is one of the great traditions of camp. [Campers and counselors] really look forward to it.” Even the early morning rain didn’t drain any Jabberwocky spirit. “One year they canceled the parade, so we paraded around the camp and Vineyard Haven. We were going to parade no matter what.”
Other float winners were Pond View Farm in the Most Patriotic category and Angel Flight for Most Original. The Special Prize was awarded to Little League baseball.
But all floats were impressive to behold. Felix Neck brought a giant spider web with campers dressed as arachnids. Donaroma’s presented Flora Dragaroma, their blooming sea monster — constructed from mostly living material with some cut flowers. “We used him for the Pink and Green Festival,” said Leslie Deal, senior floral designer. “He had to come back for the Fourth.”
Rise Vineyard Performing Arts put a twist on marching by dancing through the streets throughout the entire route.
The Colonial Navy of Massachusetts, whose members have been marching in the parade for 14 years, wore red and white striped yachting shirts, white sailor pants and seamen’s neckerchiefs. They held British muskets by their sides.
And the music that makes the parade was as enjoyable as ever. The Bay State Band marched up front, keeping the rhythm for the veterans with patriotic tunes like the national anthem and God Bless America.
The Vineyard Haven Band played beforehand at the Whaling Church and during the parade on a float. Frank Dunkl, president, said, “The band goes back to 1868 and we’ve performed at every civic event, every parade. Musicians generally don’t spend their time for money. You don’t make a living as a musician. You play for two reasons: to benefit the community, and because you love to play music.”
The parade paused for a brief musical interlude from the Bay State Band in front of the Old Whaling Church. There, the veterans stood on the reviewing stand while the crowd stood in appreciation for their service.
As the parade took a last turn and returned to the Edgartown School, the sound of clapping and cheering drowned out the band’s final measures. Dancers took their last spins and the marches finally rested their tired legs.
Later, under an orange, pink and purple sunset, families in patriotic garb made their way through the littered streets to the edge of town to watch the fireworks display. Crowds gathered along North Water street and Lighthouse Beach while a band played music from Footloose at the Harbor View Hotel. The show started off with patriotic colors and shapes like stars and smiley faces, and concluded with an energized finale, featuring white spider fireworks whose ends puff into smaller bursts, and slow-burning fireworks that linger in the sky. Despite stormy weather in Boston, the clouds stayed at bay throughout the show, and an orange paper lantern moon was just visible over Chappaquiddick.