Floats of Fancy

A gaudy display of papier-mâché.

It is the palace of King Neptune, the abode of life-size astronauts and beefy bison—a large warehouse, just north of New Market, full of glitter, gaudiness and, above all, papier-mâché. It is the American Celebration on Parade, a museum associated with Shenandoah Caverns and devoted to the display of 27 parade floats, some more than 50 years old. Normally, of course, floats get torn down and recycled, but those at American Celebration on Parade have been saved for their “wow factor,” as Debi Wine, the museum’s events coordinator says, adding: “You have to see it to understand what it is.”

Earl Hargrove Jr., owner of Landham, Maryland-based Hargrove, Inc.—a firm that has specialized in decorating big events such as parades, trade shows and conventions since 1949—started the museum in July 2000. Over the years, Hargrove has produced floats for the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Parade, the Miss America Parade, the Rose Parade, the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, San Francisco’s Chinese New Year Parade and even presidential inaugurations. One of the floats at the museum is a 60-foot-long American flag float, containing half a million staples, that Hargrove, Inc. made for Ronald Reagan’s inaugural parade in 1980.

One of the museum’s tallest floats—the Santa María float—is also one of its newest. It was built for the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Parade, and at 28 feet tall it practically reaches the rafters. The museum also features a train float made for the 1994 Tournament of Roses Parade, which was used again in President Clinton’s 1996 inaugural parade. The original float was 400 feet long, but only 100 feet of it can be seen at the American Celebration on Parade. It is so sturdy, says Wine, that visitors can even board the float. But will they know how to wave to the crowd with that proper parade technique?

ShenandoahCaverns.com

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