Saturday, July 4, 2015

Salem Willows Horribles Parade

There are a lot of strange traditions in Salem, Massachusetts.  Perhaps this is due to its “interesting” history?  It is a place where you can do odd things such as celebrate Halloween for the entire month of October, eat chop suey sandwiches, and watch a “Horribles Parade” on the 4th of July.  

"Wilson's Band" at Salem Willows Horribles Parade 2015
complete with a Home Depot bucket drum line

If you are not from New England or Massachusetts, especially Essex County, you won’t know what are “Horribles Parades”.   I grew up in Beverly, where there is still a Horribles Parade every 4th of July.   They are also celebrated in Gloucester and Marblehead. 

According to Wikipedia, the first Horribles Parade was held in Lowell, Massachusetts on July 4, 1851.  It was called the Ancient and Horribles Parade to make fun of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company which parades on patriotic occasions.  This is the oldest military group in the United States, and they take themselves very seriously.   The Ancient and Horribles Parade made fun of this, the stuffy overdressed officer, with people dressed in silly costumes.  The tradition continues today, with fancy dress, comic bands, and sometimes making fun of local politicians.

“In the morning there were some mock military displays. The "Antique and Horrible Artillery,"were under command of Capt. J. G. Peabody, who appeared in a venerable coat, said to have been worn at the battle of Bunker Hill. The company numbered about seventy-five, and no two had uniforms alike; there were high crowned hats and low crowned hats; long tailed coats and strait jackets; long guns and short guns; and everything that was grotesque and ludicrous”. (Boston Daily Atlas, July 7, 1851)

The idea of the Horribles spread.  Local New England communities hold these 4th of July parades and uphold the tradition of satirizing local public figures, elected officials and whatever is currently in the news.  Most of the parades also feature local marching bands, local business with vehicles and homemade floats, and lots of men dressed in drag, and everyone else in funny costumes.  No Halloween type scary costumes at all.  There are often prizes for the most funny costumes, or for the best parody of a local theme.

Can you guess the current events spoofed in this year's parade? 

Besides the literal parades on the 4th of July, the phrase “parade of horribles” lives on in American slang as meaning “if we do the following actions, horrible things are going to happen”.    There was a movie Parade of Horribles  in  2007 starring Stephen Vause.  Last year the Supreme Court used the phrase "parade of horribles" in one of its decisions.  Now you know the history.

Click here to see photos of my family members at a Horribles Parade in Naples, Maine in the 1960s: 

Local communities that still hold 4th of July Horribles Parades (no particular order):

Chapachet (a village of Glocester), Rhode Island first celebrated in 1926

Arnold Mills, Cumberland, Rhode Island

Gloucester, Massachusetts  (Fishtown Horribles Parade) first celebrated in 1945

Beverly, Massachusetts has TWO parades of horribles!
     And also one at Ryal Side   

Salem Willows, Massachusetts

Swampscott, Massachusetts

Andover, Massachusetts

Marblehead, Massachusetts

Peabody, Massachusetts

Hopkinton, Massachusetts

Danvers, Massachusetts (Highlands Horribles Parade, see their Facebook group )

I also understand that the towns of Winchester, Fairhaven,Wilmington and Marlborough, Massachusetts; Pelham, New Hampshire; and Wickford Village, North Kingston, Rhode Island  have annual Halloween Horribles Parades for children.  Does anyone else know of any other towns that still celebrate the 4th of July Horribles tradition, with the adults of the community participating, too?


Heather Wilkinson Rojo,  "Salem Willows Horribles Parade", Nutfield Genealogy, posted July 4, 2015, ( accessed [access date]). 


  1. When I was quite young we used to visit my grandparents in Cumberland, Rhode Island on 4th of July weekend and a highlight was the Arnold Mills parade. While I do not recall it being billed as a Horribles Parade, I do remember a lot of wackie, irreverent floats, etc. I recently came across some old photos of the parade from the 1930s when members of the family participated in the parades. I now need to ask my mother if the parades were ever billed as Horribles Parades. ;-)

  2. There is still a Horribles Parade in Winthrop, MA.