Carthage Still Has Old-Fashioned July Fourth Parade
Flags flying, crowds cheering, floats flying red, white and blue streamers — is there anything quite as American as celebrating the Fourth of July in a small town?
Carthage still celebrates Independence Day the old-fashioned way, with a traditional big parade. It begins at 11 a.m. today.
Throngs circle the historic courthouse and line streets to salute the colors, thrill to Sousa songs from marching bands, and cheer a stream of floats, old cars, baton twirlers, flag wavers, politicians, beauty queens and a long red line of fire engines with sirens blaring.
It’s the last full Independence Day parade in the county and was nearly lost a few years ago. It looked as if it might go the way of Carthage’s famous buggies, but the Carthage Rotary Club took it on.
“It was always a big deal,” said former Mayor Larry Caddell, who is now a county commissioner. “We used to have watermelon fights, pie-eating contests. We almost lost it, but didn’t. It’s been going the longest of any in the county. We are very proud of our parade, our town and our country.”
As more and more towns dropped their own full parades, finding other ways to celebrate July Fourth, the Carthage parade grows. The Rotary Club’s Steve Ennis heads it up these days.
“It gets bigger every year, more horses and things like that,” he said. “I’ve had calls from businesses in Pinehurst looking to be regular participants. Next year is going to be even bigger, because we are opening sponsorship to Southern Pines and Pinehurst and other parts of the county. I don’t know how old the Carthage parade is. I’ve only been doing it the last six or seven years. I think it goes back to the mid-1980s at least.”
Ennis never knows ahead of time who will show up down by the John Deere dealer to join the lineup. He arranges for some floats and then finds businesses and other sponsors to cover the cost. The club makes no money from the parade.
“I hire two professional floats and get sponsors,” Ennis said. “We get a lot of floats from churches. We try to keep it a family oriented parade. This year, sponsors include First Bank, Fidelity Bank, Art Blue, Phillips Ford, Mid-State Furniture, Stanley Auto — don’t want to miss anybody — an organization out of Raleigh, MMIA, and Moore Family Care.”
Anybody who wants to be in the parade just shows up, no advance application required.
“Unless you want a float — I have to arrange those in advance,” he said. “There are certain things we check out that morning. A lot of parents call about three- and four-wheelers, but we don’t allow them. They are too dangerous. I tell everybody up front that they have to act safely and with consideration. This is supposed to be fun, and safe. Period.”
Ennis puts politicians, beauty queens and bands up front. He usually has Union Pines High and New Century Middle school bands. As usual, churches provide their own floats.
“We have an abundance of antique cars this year — a lot coming from Harnett County,” he said. “I’m pleased to see other counties looking at our parade. Most fire departments from the area send trucks. We have a lot of families with kids on bicycles — as long as one parent is walking with them.”
The procession has monster trucks, horse-drawn wagons and carts, beauty queens, fire and rescue vehicles, and lots of families. Last year there was a 30-foot-long train with little kids on the back. Robbins wagon master Odell Hussey — with his Conestoga wagon built by Tyson & Jones Buggy Co. in Carthage — comes whenever he’s not otherwise engaged.
“He’s always been good to me,” Ennis said. “He comes when he can, but he is in high demand. He’s just a great guy anyhow. I have to admit most of the people who help every year are great. We get tremendous support from both county and town.”
It takes a year to organize. Everything is done by volunteers. A couple of churches always give out free water and hot dogs.
Police Chief Bart Davis has taken extra precautions this year when triple-digit temperatures were predicted. More recent forecasts don’t have the day that hot, but Rotarians will nonetheless have several emergency water stations along the route.
Davis has advice for people coming to enjoy the parade.
“Keep yourself and your family hydrated,” Davis said. “Drink plenty of water. Be patient. Keep kids safely away from floats, fire engines and other things in the parade.”
It is traditional for parade entries to toss candy to the crowds, and kids scramble into the street for it. Davis wants parents to be on the alert while enjoying the day.
“This is the last parade left,” he said. “That’s one reason it keeps growing every year.”
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or by email at email@example.com.
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