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It happens every year around this time – the official clubhouse of the Cherryfield Chowder and Marching Society becomes a veritable beehive of activity. That's because the 157 year-old Cherryfield society is the official sponsor of the riverside town's annual Fourth of July parade, the largest Fourth of July parade (per-capita) in the nation, according to NPR, National Parade Raters, LLC.
The Society was founded by a group of local businessmen who liked sharing the simple pleasure of sitting down to steaming bowls of chowder, clam, fish or corn. Like most organizations, they evolved and eventually they added marching
to the mix. After enjoying a steaming bowl of chowder members would stand and
begin marching around the tables. Soon, band instruments and uniforms were added and before long they were known as the Cherryfield Chowder and Marching Society Band.
In July of 1863, after a particularly good batch of fish chowder, the members threw the doors to their clubhouse open and began marching down Main Street, and the Cherryfield Fourth of July parade was born. For the townspeople of it was a jaw-dropping experience and society members have been dropping jaws ever since with their precision marching and spectacular instrumentation.
Now the historic parade has not only a Grand Marshall, but the Society member in charge of the parade is humbly known as Cherryfield's commander-in-chief. As such he directs a small but disciplined army of chairmen and co-chairmen assigned to each of the parade's 80 to 90 units.
After every successful parade – and they claim they haven't had a dud yet – Cherryfield Chowder and Marching Society organizers, also known as “Chowderheads,” say they need to immediately begin planning for next year's parade. Now, the town’s venerable parade is so old that it basically plans itself. Since nothing much changes from year to year, and since most town organizations have been working with the Chowderheads for so long and know their place in the parade, most marchers say they could line themselves up blindfolded. Still, organizers insist on getting together right away at the clubhouse for next year’s “planning.” Over the years word has leaked out that the chowder heads really don't start doing any such thing. Mostly what they do is go down to the clubhouse, drink vast quantities of adult beverages and play cards.
One thing the Chowderheads actually do, however, is watch a video of the parade. Because the town is so small and the parade is so lengthy, by the time they get all the members of the American Legion and Legion Auxiliary, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and its Auxiliary, the Volunteer Fire Department and its Auxiliary, the Masons, the Knights of Columbus, the Odd Fellows, Eagles, Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, the DAR, Job's Daughters, Gold Star Mothers, Eastern Star, the high school band, middle school band, elementary school band, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, Brownies, Campfire Girls, Little League, Babe Ruth League, T-Ball, and the Farm Team, and I’m sure I’m leaving a number of groups out, stretched out along Main Street, they say there's no one in town left to see the parade.
It was so discouraging that the townspeople finally hired a cameraman from the public access group in Milbridge to tape the parade so they could see it after. After the parade everyone gathers at the town hall, the cameraman rewinds the tape and everyone watches the replay on Ed Beal's 52-inch plasma, which he has trucks down from his place for the occasion.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is mainestoryteller@yahoo.com.
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