Oberlin Blogs

The Big Parade

June 23, 2012

Tess Yanisch ’13

A sign reading 'Big Parade'.

Summer is well underway here in Oberlin, where I am staying to do research. The campus is slow and sleepy, most of the students gone or sheltering inside air-conditioned buildings from the heat and humidity. I think back to a day just over a month ago, when the streets were full of people and I was still excited that it was warm enough to wear shorts. The contrast is striking . . . .

(Dear audience: we are now entering a flashback. Please picture the sides of your mental TV image going all bendy and cue a haunting, rippling melody. Thank you.)

The flashback wobbles fade out, catching me in mid-laugh. I am at the Feve with a group of friends on a bright Saturday morning, having brunch. It's crowded; the Feve is always busy in mid-morning on weekends as college students, professors, and normal Oberlin citizens treat themselves to the fabled Feve Brunch. Though the brunch menu is constantly changing, its highlights are the two sets of pancakes--sweet cakes and savory cakes--that nearly everyone at the table has chosen. This week's sweet pancakes are strawberry with lemon cream cheese topping, which is what I've gotten; the savory ones have crab in them, which also sounds good, but I could not resist the idea of strawberries. I look up at the clock and realize, with some surprise, that it is nearly noon--the plan was to have brunch at ten! But, realistically, what "Feve brunch at ten" actually means when you're trying to coordinate eight Obies is "We'll try to have everyone rounded up and out of their respective buildings by 10:20, but no promises." Then, of course, there's a wait for a table, but as this means we can go across the street to the Ginko Gallery and play with kittens, no one minds.

Three kittens are a blur of motion.

These are babies, so young they don't even look entirely like cats--more like any generic small mammal.

Three baby kittens, side by side looking up.

Another adorable tiny kitten

This kitten is on someone's lap and tries to grab her necklace..

Another cat, one old enough to hold, finds necklaces to be wonderful toys.

Kitten in the litter box

A very intent stare. Perhaps he is trying to figure out how to walk without falling over. He's still at the age where that happens.

Normally, finishing brunch at noon would not be an issue, but on this particular day, I have things to do. The Big Parade is about to start! I excuse myself, pay, and leave early, along with a few other members of our group. One is off to finish a take-home test--a far less fun task than mine. I stroll along College Street, which is already lined with people. It's cold in the shade, so I try to stick to sunny patches. I get as far down as Cowhaus Creamery when I see them coming.

The start of a parade coming down the street

The SITES kids walk in the parade next to circus performers.

3 kids carry a banner: SITES Spanish in the Elementary Schools

The Big Parade is a fairly new Oberlin tradition--this year was its eleventh. I know a little bit more about it than most people because I was in a class in which the main project was to research an Oberlin holiday in collaboration with high school students. The me inside the flashback is eager to hear the report of the group working on the Big Parade. The me outside the flashback knows about it already, and can share her knowledge with you.

It began as a result of the efforts of a couple new to the community to create an event that would unite the town and the college. The bike co-op got involved early on as well--I believe they were the link to the student community. FAVA, the arts gallery, got drawn in as the event took on an aspect of artistic expression. Over the years, floats got more elaborate, and participants began to need a designated space to work on their creations. There's now a spot behind the student health center where people can store their equipment and build their floats.

Different groups and organizations in the college and community are represented in the parade. My guess is almost everyone knows someone who is marching. The Circus has a presence, of course--stilters at a minimum, and sometimes there have been people juggling or spinning poi as well. There are lots of musical groups, including the Oberlin Marching Band and, this year, a troop of fiddlers of all ages.

A stilt-walker

A dragon with the legs of several people


There are creative costumes, clever floats, an enormous camel, and a car with mouse ears and a tail (all pictured below except the mouse-car). The streets are lined with people and the balconies of the apartments overlooking College Street are almost all occupied. I scurry around and take many, many pictures. I plan to make a blog full of them. It will be an awkward blog, with far more pictures than words, but that's okay.

A whirling dervish passes by some parade watchers.

A float with lots of kids and balloons.

It doesn't look like a chalice, but they had fun making it.

The Oberlin Unitarian Universalists' float included a giant chalice.

A helicopter made from a golf cart drives along the route.

A four-wheeled bicycle

Marching band in uniform

A person with wings watches the proceedings

Some people just dressed up for fun!

Girl scouts and a giant cookie box

The Girl Scouts were giant cookies pulling a box of Thin Mints.

Another view of the Girl Scout cookies

A guy pushes a metal skeleton sculpture on a classic Radio Flyer wagon.

A cool statue in a wagon.

Rabbits in a cage get a ride on a children's wagon

Yes, those are real rabbits in that hutch.

Marching violinists of all ages

A huge peach with a kid on top

James and the Giant Peach!

A closeup reveals it's a papier-mâché kid on the peach

A larger-than-life boom box is tuned to WOBC Radio

The college and community radio station, WOBC, broadcasts out of a small room in Wilder, the student union building. I've been on it a few times for various reasons.

It's either the Garden of Eden or Margaritaville

. . . And sometimes you look at Oberlin's performance-artist types and just want to ask, "What?"

Described perfectly in the following paragraph.

Among those times are when they're wearing flesh-colored bodysuits that are sewn together and appear to have poi dangling off them.

First Church Preschool pickup truck loaded up with kids

Two people under a costume, perhaps part of a dragon.

People in costumes including a red ant and a rainbow kite

Three people with an enormous bat, baseball, and mitt.

These guys were playing giant baseball in the middle of the parade. I loved it.

A guy with a giant bat talks with a kid in a baseball costume.

The fielder holds up his giant mitt.

Wheeled platforms holding drums and drummers

Taiko! I know some of these people!

Taiko drummers on wheels hold their sticks ready.

A couple of people carry a colorful dragon's head, followed by a small bus with matching colors on it.

This particular setup was very clever. The photo above shows the dragon's head and body. The ones below show its tail.

The bus as the dragon's body is followed by a more conventional dragon's tail.

Close-up view of the dragon's tail with small wings and scales.

The detail in the tail was amazing.

A dollhouse with a tube wrapped around it sits on a trailer.

The dollhouse wrapped in tubing is the Oberlin Efficient Homes movement's float.

People watching the parade

Boy scouts riding on a hay-covered trailer.

The Boy Scouts.

A structure made of striped poles on a wheeled platform.

The High School art club had a float!

A unicorn based on the classic two-person horse costume.

Parade marchers in a costume of undetermined origin.

A hand made sign reads Oberlin College Living Machine, Poop or Bust.

The Living Machine is a setup at the environmental studies building, a room full of plants that filter wastewater from the building. I think the float (below) is meant to look like the "machine" part of it.

People in white jumpsuits and a metallic-looking object

A wagon pulls a drummer playing a full drum kit, along with amplifiers, followed by marching electric guitarists.

The parade included live music.

The guitarists really have their guitars plugged into the amps.

Giant, colorful Hare Krishna wagon

The Hare Krishna wagon, pulled by a large group of singing people. It's huge.

People riding on the Krishna wagon

An idea of scale on the Hare Krishna wagon. The wheels are at least six feet high.

A group of bicyclists in the parade

Lots of people biking! Hooray for biking! Oberlin has lots of bikes.

Someone in a Statue of Liberty costume sits atop a rocket

Raising money for the July 4th fireworks display.

Steel drummers play while they march

OSteel (steel drums).

A creature built atop bikes

This dragon's mouth opened and emitted green smoke.

The full dragon uses two bikes in front for the head and two in the rear for the tail, with the dragon's midsection suspended in between.

A camel is more than 3 times as tall as the people around it.

As promised, a giant camel.

Several people move the elaborately-constructed camel.

It was a very well-trained giant camel. It would even kneel down on command!

A sign announces the next group: Kendal's Precision Lawn Chair Drill Team.

Two dozen or so retirees raise their lawn chairs in synch.

After the parade proper ends, there is a small festival in Tappan Square, complete with a bouncy house for the kids (and college students) who are interested. My friend Connor teaches people how to walk on stilts. There are hamburgers and lemonade. I hang out for a while, but all too soon I have to leave and get ready for the afternoon show of the spring circus. That's another thing I fully intend to write a photo-laden blog about sometime in the very near future . . . .

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