The Good, The Bad, and The Horribles—A Unique New England Tradition

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Happy 4th of July! To celebrate, we’re re-posting our coverage of Gloucester, MA’s Fishtown Horribles parade. The parade has its roots in satire, dating back to the late 1800s when dressing up to spoof politicians and the dour military parades, specifically the somber Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, provided some local comic relief.

Growing up, when Gloucester was more of a “drinking town with a fishing problem”, the Horribles were, well, pretty horrible—in a great, politically incorrect, R-rated, no holds barred kinda way. It was a parade of yellow slicker-bedecked kids, seaweed-strewn “drunken” fishermen brandishing comically large liquor jugs, knocked up fishwives (in drag) complete with missing teeth, and anyone and everyone wearing their worst— in other words, a closely observed satire on modern mores. What kind of 4th of July parade would you expect from the town made famous by Wicked Tuna and The Perfect Storm?

Watching my first parade after a decade-long absence, I found that although the fishing industry is all but gone the fishing heritage lives on. Albeit in a cleaned up, family-friendly way. The parade is run by volunteers and donations, and at times it is hard to distinguish between the participants and the spectators—neighbors and friends dart back and forth from the sidewalks and floats to pass along updates or just jump on board.

As the the town trooped its entire municipal fleet (police ATVs, a forest fire truck, and a DOT cement mixer among the fire engines, police cruisers and ambulances), followed by the high school football team, cheerleaders, Special Olympics squad, LGBT Pride contingent and VFW contingent, amongst the local politicians glad handing the crowd, the lines blurred even further.

Sure, it’s still about homemade costumes and floats, and it’s still about the kids—the Horribles distribute candy as they march along—but mostly, it’s about a day of the whole community on joining in, taking a day off just to celebrate life, the town and each other.

Parting shot: The staff of The Blackburn Tavern take a quick break to watch the parade go by.

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