The Wonderful Weirdness of the Northside Fourth of July Parade

We talk with the organizers of the 150-year-old event about its past, present, and particularly peculiar moments.

Illustration by Zachary Ghaderi

Fashion shows, air guitarists, a wedding ceremony—you never know what you’re going to find at the Northside Fourth of July Parade. The 150-year-old event has grown famous for its creative participants, thousands of viewers, and a sense of humor that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Co-organizers Hannah Taphorn and Neil Spataro have worked hard to harness the spirit of Northside and make this year’s parade the best yet.

How did the parade begin?
Spataro: There was an orphanage in the area, this was like the 1840s, and it started as a fund-raiser for the orphanage. I think the first one was 1852. It continued until the orphanage moved out of the Northside. I think the break in continuity was 1960 and then it picked back up in the 1970s.

How has the parade changed over the years?
It really has become—and we’re both passionate about keeping it this way—the place where anyone can be whoever they want. I like to think of it as very First Amendment oriented. Like, say what you want, wear what you want…

Spataro: …And probably get cheered for it.

What can we look for in this year’s parade?
We do have a group that just signed up…it’s a wolf–themed pub crawl. Their event takes place shortly after the parade. The Wolf Pack Pub Prowl—they wear wolf shirts and howl. So we have no idea what to expect but it’ll probably be great.

Spataro: I’m just glad they all found each other [laughing].

When participants join do you get to see their costumes or acts beforehand?
They give a brief description when they register, hopefully, and then we find out day of. Last year we had people that got married in the parade. They e-mailed a week before and the name of the entry was Northside Wedding. No other information, but there were two participants. It was funny because during the parade they were carrying these signs like, “Almost Married” and they were wearing casual bride and groom clothes. She was carrying a bouquet of white balloons. And then they stop at this intersection and everyone’s like, “What’s going on?” and you hear the officiant yell “Dearly beloved.” Someone released butterflies when they said “I do.” It was great! But it was one of those [situations] where we just did not know what to expect.

How many groups roughly participate?
About 100 groups, sometimes more.

Lots of return participants?
Oh yeah.

Spataro: I’m a fan of the dance groups; they’re a lot of fun.

Taphorn: And with the dance, one thing that’s unique about the Northside Parade is it ends with a dance party. There’s a group at the end called Danceteria and they have a great gotta-get-up-and-dance type of playlist. As they go down the road people either leave the parade, when it’s over, or they just come and dance. So there’s hundreds of people dancing at the end of the parade and then they can go to the [Northside] Rock N’ Roll Carnival and listen to music.

What’s another wacky group you’ve had participate or one of your favorites?
We got an entry that said: “Real Men Wear Condoms.” I was like, OK, all for sexual health—that’s great. This woman calls me and is like, “Hey, I’m with the group Real Men Wear Condoms and I was a nurse practitioner for years in reproductive health and now I’m retired and I figured out how to get thousands of free condoms and I just want to make sure that I’m allowed to hand those out? We have candy for the kids but for the adults can we just hand those out? And my husband’s gonna play guitar and he wrote a song called “Real Men Wear Condoms.” And that was the group! They had a couple friends [with them] and they handed condoms out and some literature on how to practice safe sex.

We also have an all-female ukulele band, the Sugar Pills. They wear neon and sit in this old car and just strum away on their ukuleles.

Are the participants mainly Northside residents?
We consider our community to be anyone who loves and appreciates Northside. We get a lot of people from all over who attend. A lot of the groups are Northside-central, but not all.

What’s your favorite part of co-organizing the parade?
Spataro: The lineup. Three or four days before we all get together and set the lineup.

Taphorn: We organize it in waves of fun to make sure there’s never a boring moment.

What do you think most draws people to the parade?
Spataro: I think people know that to be in it you’re going to be in front of at least 5,000 eyes, relatively. So, I think the size of the crowd. It’s always been fun and weird and it makes it a happy space for people.

What about Northside makes it the perfect place to host this parade?
The parade represents the ethos of Northside every other day of the year. One of my neighbors likes to say that the Fourth of July is the best day to be a Northsider, followed by a close second: every other day of the year. I think that has some truth to it. Right now, there’s a rash of art going onto telephone poles. The one outside my house has all these brightly colored frogs stapled to it. Someone started yarn-bombing the telephone poles, and there’s one with like a shark cut in half on each side of it. There’s one that looks like a Muppet. And it’s that kind of spirit that happens all the time anyway. It’s fun. My section of the street is already coordinating what it’s gonna do for Halloween, because it’s gotta be good!

Spataro: [Laughing] You need to be able to roll with it.

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