Vacations are meant to be relaxing. Swim, sun, cook, drink, rinse, repeat. Due to personal and professional deadlines my vacation went more like: clean, trash, write, apply, review, request an extension. Between submitting for publication, looking for new employment, refinancing the house, and running an amateur wrestling clinic for small children out of my living room, I found enough time to scribble a few thoughts on humor, drink unwatered whiskey, and beg for a quick death between the hours of 11pm and midnight before it all began again the following day.
Few and far between do I ever find the emancipated evening, like my pass to the local class on voice acting I mentioned last time. If you’re the type to follow links in an online article like E. T. tracking Reese’s Pieces (timely I know), then your detective work discovered my town of residence. Salem, MASS. There are a lot of Salems in the United States, but only ours burned witches so their descendants could sell cheap gimcracks that turn tragedy into novelty. History is ripe for humor, and when that humor becomes routine, the resulting tradition can be called horrible.
Or rather, Horribles. The Ancient and Horribles Parade is a fading New England tradition that sounds a lot like a lottery in Shirley Jackson literature. “We’ve always had a parade!” some old codger mutters before throwing a rock at the chosen sacrifice. Similarly, the parade stretches back into forgotten memory, where many claim its origin but no one really knows when exactly. But they do know what and how. Usually on or around July 4, a community informally gathers to lampoon people in the public eye as a supplement to the formal celebrations sponsored by the government on our day of independence. Like Gerrymandering, the North Shore above Boston also made the event a political device, “whereby the speaker argues against taking a certain course of action by listing a number of extremely undesirable events which will ostensibly result from the action.” But why speak of politics when it can be satirized?
The earliest account for Salem’s parade in a quick Google search dates to 1926, in part commemorating the 300th anniversary of the town’s founding:
The main event on Monday, July 5, was the Antiques, Horrible, and Grotesque Parade. Participants ranged from the 100-member contingent from the Juniper Community Club at Salem Willows to a single individual dressed as a South Seas Island cannibal. The Juniper Point group won the first prize of $100 for its clever circus theme, “Under the Big Top.”
Juniper Point is a small neighborhood wrapping around one side of Salem Neck, beside the larger recreational destination of Salem Willows Park, a 35-acre waterfront site designated a city park in 1858. As the park was named for its white willow trees, Juniper Point was named for—take a guess—its junipers. Originally the junipers stayed green longer than the homes at Juniper Point had residents. The summer community became winterized in the 20th century, and with year-round occupation came a tight-knit neighborhood determined to keep a vacation mentality. Juniper Point has hosted its own Horribles Parade since the late 1940s and the people haven’t really changed from the 1950s into the 2000s—Wilson’s Band has played in the parade for fifty years and is made up predominantly of Wilsons.
I attended my first Horribles Parade this year because one of my son’s teachers was dressing up as candy. That’s all I knew. Juniper Point doesn’t advertise their official start time or date (like those showboats in Beverly Farms or Marblehead) but for the record it’s always on the Fourth around 10am. It was hot, and humid, and a wonderful break from the cleaning, trashing, writing, applying, reviewing, and requesting an extension preoccupying my vacation. Here are some photographs I took before returning to my personal spectacle of bureaucratic horrors. HAPPY BELATED FOURTH!