With the Fourth of July upon us, it seemed like a good time to feature some notable Island parades, including Edgartown’s Independence Day parade and Memorial Day parades in Vineyard Haven. Vineyarders shared their memories with Linsey Lee, Oral History Curator at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. Many of these excerpts appear in Lee’s “Vineyard Voices” books, both available in the Museum’s gift shop on School Street in Edgartown.
Elizabeth Marchant Sanchez
1901-1999; Edgartown proprietor, Marchant House Bed and Breakfast.
“Oh, Fourth of July, this town [Edgartown] always has a parade, always did, always have. But before, what we used to do, oh, the teens and young men used to do terrible things. They’d take the porch furniture off a porch and use ropes and tie it up on top of the flag pole, in a few cases they’d overturn a woodhouse or an outhouse or they’d bring a boat up the middle of Main Street and stop all the traffic and everything. And they’d set fire maybe to some old, unoccupied house. We would bring in all the porch furniture, you didn’t dare leave it out.”
1913-2003; Edgartown probation officer, secretary, homemaker.
“We did have a parade. I remember that, because I remember all the kids and their little flags. Every little kid — I don’t know who provided them, maybe the veterans or maybe the town, I don’t know — but every kid in the parade had these little flags on a stick. And all the grade school, we lined up by the Town Hall, we stretched all the way back beyond the church by grades and your teacher was beside you, and we had bands and we paraded down through Main Street and turned down to the Town Dock. There we all [were], there were prayers and they sang and all this stuff, and all the school children by grade went to the dock and… in memory of the sailors that died in the war, would throw our individual flowers — mostly they were lilacs — two or three flowers each child had. I can remember seeing those flowers just floating away toward the lighthouse.”
Born in Edgartown, 1921; Selectman, town leader.
“I tell you, I’m so busy trying to get the parade organized and marching…all I’m concerned with there is let’s get this thing going and I hope the people enjoy it. And that’s what counts. And then seeing the people along the parade route yelling, cheering, singing. And they all seem to be happy, and there seem to be more and more people every year. And that’s the satisfaction I get out of being involved with the Fourth of July Parade.”
George “Snookie” Baptiste
1927-2005; Vineyard Haven screen repairman, carpenter and musician.
“The day before Memorial Day we’d march down to the wharf, down the town — you know where the town pier is, down at Owen Park, and throw flowers in — you know, for the dead sailors. Memorial Day there’d always be a regular parade. Sometimes…our bugle corps would be in it.
“Well, it was the high school band [that played the day before Memorial Day]. God, I think all ages marched down there. They usually marched from the school down to the wharf, down to the town dock, rather, at Owen Park, and threw the flowers off. They’d all go out on the pier and throw the flowers off. If you were in the band, we had to play the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ probably and maybe one other hymn or something. ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’ they played a lot, and ‘Abide with Me,’ a lot of hymns.”
Hilda Norton Gilluly
Born, 1907, Edgartown volunteer for the MV Historical Society (now MV Museum) and guide at Cooke House.
“The Fourth of July…well, no I think Memorial Day was the biggest holiday. That was when they had the parade. And at one time they didn’t do much about the fourth of July — that is, the things that were done were done the night before — they used to raise Cain. They used to ring all the church bells and blow the steamboat whistle and bring rowboats up from the water and put them in the street. All kinds of things — that was just like Halloween, the night before the Fourth.”
We used to have a clambake on the Fourth and then after the clambake we had the fireworks of our own; then you could buy fireworks of course…At times, they had [a parade] but there were times through the years that they didn’t have anything on the Fourth…Oak Bluffs used to have the fireworks in the thirties; everyone would go up there the night before the Fourth to see the fireworks.”
Caroline Osborne Seacord
1908-2002; Edgartown organist, music teacher and historian.
“Oh, we had a float in the summer at Fourth of July… and I was dressed like Betsy Ross. I had the stripes, the red and white, and putting it together on the float, that was the first float we had. I made it up with stuff I had…and an old little cap. It was sort of the style of the time. I was working on a flag, so that winter I made the American flag and I embroidered each star.”
Dorothy Brickman and Ida Levine
Dorothy Brickman,1916-2006, lived in Vineyard Haven; she was a social worker and educator. Her sister, Ida Levine, 1908-2000 was the owner and manager of Vineyard Dry Goods in Vineyard Haven.
Dorothy Brickman: “Yeah, I used to march in the parade. I was the first girl on this Island to play a cornet . . .We used to have school parades and town parades.”
Ida Levine: “Wonderful, just wonderful. They’d meet at the school and they all carried lilacs, mostly, and they would march down according to grades. They’d start with like the first grade and they’d go up to about the eighth, and they marched all the way from the school down Main Street and everybody would go out to watch. I wore a white dress. I must have been in the sixth grade.”
Dorothy Brickman: “The children dressed up to march and the parents dressed up their children. They carried bouquets of flowers and they’d go down to the wharf and put flowers in the sea for the dead, and then we’d go to Owen Park, where they would have another ceremony.”