Everyone loves a parade!
Filled with drawings, daguerreotypes, historical photographs, and detailed description, The Best Ever! brings to life the creativity and impact of New England parades, while expanding popular understanding of many similar events today. Parade days give communities an opportunity to reveal themselves, showing both local residents and out-of-town visitors what is valued and who is respected while giving participants and attendees an opportunity to see and be seen. Parade planners draw upon personal experience, fond memories, cherished symbols, and favorite stories to create floats illustrating memorable scenes from history, honoring civic leaders and military heroes, mourning fallen soldiers or dignitaries, advocating change, inspiring reform, influencing consumer behavior, or celebrating innovation and progress. Specific holidays such as Independence Day, Patriot’s Day, Bunker Hill Day, Armistice Day, and Old Home Day provide additional inspiration for red, white, and blue celebration. Of particular interest is the section on the uniquely New England tradition of “Antiques and Horribles.” The Best Ever! explores common themes in parades, including honor, civic and ethnic identity, fraternity, progress in public works, advocacy of political candidates or favorite causes, memorialization of wartime bravery or cherished virtues, and just plain fun! Each is seen in an exciting public moment, leaving memories of reassuring symbols, influencing action, and raising questions. At the same time they show how ideas have been shaped over time and changed by circumstance, even as perceptions of the past are still evolving and questioned in the present.
Jane C. Nylander is president emerita of Historic New England. Formerly director of Strawbery Banke Museum, curator of textiles and ceramics at Old Sturbridge Village, and curator of the New Hampshire Historical Society, she has served as Trustee of Old Sturbridge Village, Historic Deerfield, the New Hampshire Historical Society, the Decorative Arts Trust, the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in New Hampshire, the Worcester (Massachusetts) Historical Museum, and the Costume Society of America. She has written and lectured extensively on New England social history and domestic interiors, textiles, clothing, and antiquarianism. Widely published in periodicals including Antiques, Antiques and Fine Arts, and Early American Life, she is also the author of Our Own Snug Fireside: Images of the New England Home, 1760–1860 (Knopf, 1993), Fabrics for Historic Buildings (National Trust, 4th edition, 1990) and Windows on the Past: Four Centuries of New England Homes (Historic New England, 2009). A special pleasure throughout her career has been extensive research in New England’s local historical societies and town libraries. Winner of many awards, Jane Nylander credits her husband and collaborator, Richard, for enriching her work.
Praise for The Best Ever!:
What a parade! Lined up two-abreast and a mile long, the more than 300 images in this book celebrate the art of celebration. As Jane Nylander makes clear, New England parades were both inventive and competitive, determining who could make a fire engine disappear or a ship on wheels appear to float. They were also lineups of who did and did not matter in a town. From triumphal arches to “horribles,” they displayed the living culture of a time and place.
—Laurel Thatcher Ulrich Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785–1812
Reading The Best Ever! is like watching the ghost of another America walk by—a ghost with a vibrant village life, brimming with homemade exuberance and an unexpected ambition. The determination to stage an allegory and pull it down Main Street speaks to the power of classical education and patriotic lessons. Here are so many naïve Columbias, women dressed as the 36 or 38 states, a kaleidoscopic array of Uncle Sams, and temporary triumphal arches without end. These efforts to translate classical ideals into bunting and swags of evergreens are what make the homage so appealing. Our small-town parades today pale by comparison.
—Howard Mansfield Author of Chasing Eden, A Book of Seekers and The Habit of Turning the World Upside Down
Jane Nylander reminds us that “everyone loves a parade!” And she tells us why in this groundbreaking book that pushes cultural history out of the house and onto Main Street. Here, we find our public selves—our history of aspiration, advocacy, community, and self-identity—through a trailing lesson designed to teach civic pride from the Federal Era to WWII. Using the rich imagery of all kinds of parades, Nylander’s narrative enlivens our understanding of what was important in American life. Don’t miss this parade of parades!
—Philip Zea President Emeritus, Historic Deerfield