Lyme parade remains a whimsical tradition
Lyme — There's nothing official about the best little parade in the USA.
With only hand-drawn signs on the Hamburg Cove bridge listing the 10 a.m. start, the Annual Cove Road 4th of July Parade kicked off Monday morning as marchers lined up at the top of the hill. Below them, parade-goers in red, white and blue lined the picturesque bay where the Eight Mile and Connecticut rivers converge.
Longtime former selectman Parker Lord said the only formal part of the event is the permit the town received from the state to allow passage across Route 156 and the state troopers they hired to close the road.
"What makes it so nice is that no one's in charge," he said. "It just happens."
It's been happening for more than 60 years, ever since Dr. William Irving first led his children on an impromptu march with a pot-and-pan band from their home on the hill. The well-loved Old Saybrook pediatrician stopped at the 10-foot-long bridge to make a speech on the significance of Independence Day and proceeded to throw 13 tea bags into the cove to commemorate the original colonies. They went home to eat popsicles.
The procession grew over the years to include cousins and friends. Then neighbors joined in. Eventually, people from all over town were turning out. By 2005, according to news reports, the Irvings were handing out 500 popsicles.
While none of those interviewed by The Day on Monday could pinpoint the exact origin of the parade, Irving's 2015 obituary memorialized the occasion.
"Begun on a whim on Independence Day in 1958, the Irving family's little march down Cove Road grew to become the Lyme Fourth of July Parade," the notice said.
The first time around, reports in The Day indicate, marchers fired off some shotgun blanks and shouted "hip, hip hooray." This time, the ricochet of a musket signaled the start of the parade while kids from Camp Claire could be heard chanting "USA."
Matt and Linda Elgart of Lyme lined up at the top of the hill in the 1948 Chrysler New Yorker they said they've been driving in the parade since they came to town in the early '80s. Two giant stuffed bears sat in the backseat.
Matt Elgart, a Navy veteran and retired optometrist, described the parade in simple, superlative terms.
"It's the best," he said, adding that the parade is the "right size and the right sentiment" for the population pegged in the most recent US Census at 2,352 residents.
"People are a little more patriotic at this parade, for some reason," he said.
His wife expressed pity for anyone marching in front of the acoustically tricked-out Chrysler.
"Hopefully they have ear plugs, because he is a bad boy with the horns," she said. "He's got three different horns on here, and one is more obnoxious than the other."
Those in the parade represented groups including the Lyme Public Library, the Garden Club, Sustainable Lyme, and the Lyme Ambulance Association. There was a 1922 Model T and a military tank rolling on continuous tracks.
The Lyme Garden Club asked for people to help them weed; the ambulance company asked for volunteers to help them save lives. Kids from Camp Claire sang "You're a Grand Old Flag."
Lyme resident Patsy Berglund drove the route on a little motorbike.
"We're in a gang," she said. "A vintage moped gang."
Next to her relatively nondescript yellow moped, her husband, Daniel, rode one with antlers on the front and a raccoon tail at the rear.
The gang got its start amid the pandemic when members acquired mopeds — mostly 1970s vintage, with one from the '50s — and took to the streets.
"We crashed the Memorial Day Parade in Old Lyme," Patsy Berglund said. Now, the group is using their 50cc motors to ingratiate themselves into Lyme's most non-traditional tradition.
"It's so darn charming," she said. "A real taste of Americana."
Ashley Keel, 13, of Lyme, kept pace with the Sustainable Lyme group dedicated to environmental and social causes. Before she set off, the first-time participant had a bold prediction: "I think this is probably going to be one of the best parades ever," she said.
Signs carried by members included calls for affordable housing, pollinator-friendly gardens, and a reduction in light pollution known as the Dark Skies initiative.
Her sister, Faith Keel, 11, held a poster touting "equality for all." It was in keeping with the sentiment expressed by Irving back when he would stand on the bridge to recite passages from the Declaration of Independence, dropping the reference to "men" so the self-evident truth became that "all are created equal."
Now, the spot is marked with a plaque identifying it as the Esther and William Irving Bridge.
Susan Anderson of Lyme began attending the parade with her husband, Richard, in the early 1970s.
She laughed at the recollection of Irving grandstanding on the bridge. It's where his fanciful and fiery speeches characterized the Boston Tea Party as a misnomer for the political protest that actually took place right in Hamburg Cove, she said.
The parade remains what it always was, according to Anderson: "An old fashioned, family thing."