Part museum and part graveyard, American Celebration on Parade is an enormous warehouse filled with parade floats from presidential inaugurals, the Rose Parade, Miss America Parades, Thanksgiving Day Parades, and other celebrations.
Not far from Shenandoah Caverns and Skyline Drive, it sits in the middle of a field, guarded by a mock Statue of Liberty in the parking lot. The collection is the work of Earl Hargrove Jr., who spent his life staging trade shows, conventions, and presidential inaugurals. He has been collecting parade floats for 50 years.
Although the name is slightly confusing, the goals of American Celebration on Parade are clear: to give these floats afterlives as emblems of national pride. Many of the displays are characterized by over-the-top patriotism (with a distinctly Republican bent). An eagle from the 2001 Rose Parade symbolizes “the beauty of America’s endless vistas, its national strength, and its unlimited future.” There is also a giant American flag made of 5,000 square yards of crushed silk.
This nationalism extends beyond the floats: a mock-up of the U.S. Capitol Building is a “tribute to the American Presidency” from the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego, and a copy of Marine Corps War Memorial (or Iwo Jima Memorial) was created for the Operation Desert Storm Homecoming celebrations in June 1991.
Every inch of the warehouse glitters. Because parade floats are generally viewed at a distance, these overwhelm. The collection includes macaws from the Eastman Kodak float in the 2000 Rose Parade, animated mother and baby circus elephants with a combined weight of two tons, and an “American Indian head” that made an appearance in Bill Clinton’s Inaugural Parade. Several polar bears that were once covered in flowers and seeds for the 1998 Rose Parade have been re-covered in fur.
The spectacular floats fill the space, dwarfing the visitor. A 30-foot genie with massive outstretched arms won the award for best design in the 1992 Rose Parade. She can spin around, but the indoor space won’t permit the circular movement of her arms. A Dixieland Band float includes a 20-foot banjo-playing pelican.
Other scenes have been set up specifically for the warehouse, such as the Bunny Rabbit Family at the county fair, which comprises parts from other floats and displays. And some floats have been re-purposed over the years: the sea serpent pulling King Neptune’s chariot was once a fire-breathing dragon in a float depicting St. George and the dragon, and the chariot was recycled from a Roman gladiator float. The mask of King Tut that promoted an exhibit at the Franklin Institute Science Museum in the 2006 Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade was later refashioned as the Great Sphinx for the 2000 Miss America Parade. And several animals from a past Rose Parades have been framed in autumn leaves in a “salute to the Shenandoah Valley.”