Bloomington’s Arden Place neighborhood has had a Fourth of July parade every year since 1962. The neighbors rallied to keep their tradition alive this year despite the pandemic's obstacles.
Carol Ebeling, a long-time Arden Place resident and retired teacher, said the parade began in the summer of 1962 when a local mother suggested that her bored, middle-school-aged children organize a parade to entertain themselves, and the idea stuck.
Ebeling and her husband Dave have participated in the parade since they moved to the neighborhood in 1976. Ebeling said most years, the parade is held in the evening of July 3, so as not to conflict with the city’s parade, which was canceled this year due to COVID-19.
Typically, the neighborhood parade consists of a fire truck followed by a convertible with various dignitaries, such as the mayor, state legislators or out of town guests. A local tractor with a wagon full of kids is usually close behind as well as a neighborhood dentist who always carries a large American flag and a variety of people on foot or bicycle, wearing costumes and pulling decorated wagons and dogs.
The paraders usually loop around the neighborhood before gathering in one of the larger yards for a cookout or dessert pitch-in, complete with costume contests, a food drive, an emcee and musical guests playing the "Star-Spangled Banner."
“Most years there’s almost nobody watching because everybody walks,” Ebeling added. “It’s about as old-fashioned a tradition as you can find anywhere in America.”
This year, the production was more low-key. The fire truck made a loop around the neighborhood followed by a few families on bikes. The tractor made a loop independently, pulling a bunch of kids in the trailer attached to the back like usual. Households decorated the street with pennants and set up tables to pass out items that might normally be handed out from the parade, including water bottles, candy, glow sticks, rice cakes, Rice Krispies treats and one addition for 2020 — face masks. Families walked around in red, white and blue outfits, stopping to chat with old friends and to get to know new additions to the neighborhood.
The Ebelings offered a passing child on a bicycle a glow bracelet.
“You already asked me three times, and I said NO!” she yelled back.
Wendy Leutert and Yingtao Guo are among the neighborhood’s newer residents, having moved in on the last day of 2019. Leutert, an assistant professor in IU’s Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, said being married to someone who is not an American citizen has made her aware of the symbolism and perceptions that come with displaying the American flag, so she and her husband had decorated with a more generic red, white, and blue banner. She said they were enjoying seeing their neighbors, who had thus far mostly kept to themselves, first because of the winter weather and then because of the coronavirus.
“This is the first time I’ve celebrated the Fourth of July where it felt like a whole community event, not a family one,” she added. “It’s been so nice to really see everyone; it’s been really special.”
Guo, a software engineer originally from Songyuan, China, agreed that the Arden Place celebration was pretty different from his experiences with the holiday in Philadelphia and Boston.
“It’s more relaxed, kind of like Halloween,” he said. “People are so friendly.”
Neville Vaughn, the fireman who has been bringing the fire truck to the parade for over 20 years, is originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He said he was celebrating because he is lucky to be an American.
“We’re all immigrants here,” he said. “I’m living the dream in America, that’s me!”
His wife, Jennie Vaughn, the chancellor at Ivy Tech Community College Bloomington, said that the three households nearest to hers had all been participating in the parade for over 20 years, and the group of young adults standing and chatting in her yard had all grown up walking in the parade. She is originally from Phoenix and met her husband in San Francisco, but she said she didn’t feel the same sense of community in either of those places.
“It’s an Indiana hometown tradition,” she said. “It’s important to keep up traditions in times like this.”
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