For 50 years, Lewes’s Doo Dah Parade has marched to its own idiosyncratic beat
One summer day in the mid ’60s, the Shockley, Hudson and Hoenen families were enjoying their traditional Fourth of July get-together at the Hoenen house on Chestnut Street in Lewes. Well, the adults were having fun, but the kids, facing hours before the fireworks were to start, were bored.
“It was one of those years that Lewes hadn’t arranged any children’s activities downtown,” saysEd Shockley, who was around 12 or 13 at the time. “There weren’t any sack races or pie-eating contests. The kids were getting restless.”
Suddenly, moms Carolyn Shockley and Phyllis Hoenen came up with an idea. “We trimmed a tree with red, white and blue crepe paper,” says Phyllis, who still lives in the same Chestnut Street home. “We took speakers off the walls and put them by the door, turned the Sousa music up loud and the kids marched around, banging on pots and pans.”
Details are a little hard to nail down: Hoenen remembers that the parade went back and forth on Chestnut Street. Ed Shockley recalls that it went around the block. And Ed’s brother Michael, who was 5 or 6, thinks that the group marched around the block six times.
In any case, there’s one thing on which they all agree: That was the start of the now extremely popular Lewes Doo Dah Parade.
“This is something that the whole town has taken to heart,” says Ed. “There are floats, hundreds of people are involved and hundreds of people line up to watch it. It’s looked forward to as a big event.”
Big, maybe — at least by small-town standards. But still with that spontaneous feel. There is no official start time; things usually start rolling at around 5:30 in the afternoon.
Participants still line up on a residential street, though now it’s Manila Avenue, behind the Shockley home.
Anyone can join in. No registration is required. “It’s hard to organize a parade, so we don’t do it,” Phyllis explains.
And there isn’t a theme. “This parade has no agenda of any kind,” Ed notes. “Even though we’ve seen a lot of turbulent times since it started — Vietnam, Watergate, the resignation of Richard Nixon, Clinton’s impeachment — we’ve pretty much avoided political commentary. A couple of years ago, for the first time, we had a political float. That was OK — people are free to do what they want. But we want people just to come and be a part of the parade.”
As she has since its beginnings, Phyllis still leads the way, now from a seat in a truck. A couple of years ago, when Ed’s wife, Jill (who’s informally in charge), was riding her bike around in an attempt to organize participants, a group pulled up in their car and informed her that they had reservations for the front of the line.
“She just stared at them,” Ed says. “And then [Jill] said, ‘That’s funny. Who did you call to get those reservations?’”
They took their place at the back of the line.
Follow the leader
In the late 1960s, the multi-family July Fourth gathering switched from the Hoenen to the Shockley home which fronts McFee and the backyard of which stretches to Manila Avenue. Manila at that time had a lot of empty lots, which meant more room for parking and for people to spread out.
“The year that that happened, the parade got a little bigger,” Ed remembers. People started decorating cars and trucks and someone found a battery-powered record player on which to play John Philip Sousa marches. In 1969, when Ed was 16, “we marched to Lewes Beach and back.”
Michael remembers a parade a few years later, when he was about 10. The group, as usual with Phyllis in the lead, was headed toward the beach. But when she got to Second Street, Phyllis turned.
“She went left!” Michael recalls. “She was going toward downtown! We all had some serious reservations. We were just parading — we hadn’t told anyone that we were parading — and all of a sudden we were headed into downtown. We all followed her, though.”
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