CHEBEAGUE ISLAND — There are no marching bands in Chebeague Island’s Fourth of July parade. No Shriner go-carts, corporate mascots or beauty queens riding atop Cadillacs. The parade comes and goes in all of 10 minutes.

Yet the Independence Day parade here is the biggest community event of the year, drawing families and extended families to the island for a tradition that dates to the mid-1800s, when the Fourth of July was the one day each summer when the crews of the island’s famous “stone sloops” all came home.

The planning is simple. Organizers announce a theme – this year it was “Christmas in July” – and wait to see who shows up for the 11 a.m. muster at the Chebeague Island Inn, the 1920s-era hotel at the northern end of the island.

The parade winds through the middle part of the island and ends up at the island’s school, followed by a community picnic behind the Chebeague Recreation Center.

Staying home is not an option. It appears that half of the island is in the parade, and the other half is watching.

The floats are the stars.

The first-place trophy for best float this year went to the Grunko family, which built a giant lobster attached to a pickup that pulled a “sleigh” full of children in the truck bed, while sporting a festive Christmas hat and holding an American flag in one claw.

Every so often, the sleigh would stop, and the children – all grandchildren, nieces and nephews of Beth and Michael Grunko of Somerville, Mass. – would stand and sing a song they called “Santa Claws is Coming to Town.”

“Chebeague is just like heaven,” they sang. “Out on Casco Bay. With sand and surf and fun and sun, it’s like Christmas every day.”

Indeed, the parade here is more about a celebration of Chebeague Island than it is about America’s independence from Great Britain.

“It’s the Fourth of July when you were a kid, when you always felt safe,” said Evie Bond, who lives in Baltimore but has been vacationing on the island every summer since the 1980s. “In Baltimore, it’s too big and impersonal. Here, you know everybody.”

On Chebeague, the summer visitors are accepted by the locals, and the parade has become a mixture of both.

This year’s parade was smaller than usual, probably because the holiday fell in the middle of the week.

Besides three floats, there were numerous candy-throwing clowns, an antique car that suffered a mechanical failure and was pushed by a horde of teenage boys, four fire trucks and the town’s utility truck.

The island gained its independence from the town of Cumberland on July 1, 2007, so the parade of Chebeague-owned fire trucks carried special significance.

Last summer, one of the old fire trucks broke down during the parade, resulting in a decision by the Board of Selectmen to buy a new fire truck, which took its place in the parade this year.

Such is the importance of the Fourth of July that the town leaders chose the picnic for handing out the prestigious Community Service Award. It went to Laura Summa for her efforts running the island’s bottle and can redemption program.

Located in Casco Bay about 10 miles from Portland, Chebeague Island has a year-round population of about 300 people and a summer population of 1,500 to 2,000.

In the 1800s, the island supported as many as 30 stone sloops – sailing ships that carried quarried granite along the New England coast. 

Remembering that era, Lizzie Cleaves Curit, who lived on the island in the 1800s, wrote: “When I was a girl, from the time when the ice went out in the spring till Christmas, there wasn’t a man or boy over 14 on this island except over the Fourth of July.”

“They always came home for the Fourth of July,” said Joyce Souchek, a longtime island resident. “It was a homecoming.”
 
Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 792-6369 or at:

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