Unlike other reverent parades, Rhode Island’s Ancients & Horribles parade skewers local and national figures and satirizes popular culture.
Ancient & Horribles origin story
In the 19th century, it was common in New England to have military parades to honor veterans. But, New Englanders, never being ones to shy away from thumbing their nose at the establishment, began holding rival parades.
These Ancient & Horrible or Antique & Horribles parades were named as puns of the Ancient & Honorable parades that were common at the time.
Rhode Island, home of the oldest 4th of July parade (Bristol, 1785) in the U.S., was especially ready for a rival parade in the early 20th century. When New Englander Calvin Coolidge was President, he was also a member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company in Boston. Rhode Islanders, always up for making fun of Boston, began an Ancients & Horribles parade in the tiny town of Chepachet, sending up stuffy establishment figures like Calvin Coolidge. The Ancient & Horribles parade has been held around July 4th every year since with exception of the war years of 1942-45 and the pandemic year of 2020.
Today’s Ancients & Horribles
Unlike the sanitized patriotism of some other 4th of July parades, Rhode Island’s Ancients & Horribles is a decidedly DIY non-politically correct affair.
Sure, you’ll see high school marching bands and local business owners waving from convertibles. But, you’ll also see folks on homemade floats, groups of guys in drag, and some random farmer driving down the street on their tractor.
I’ve seen floats dedicated to complaining about the latest property tax assessment to one that was a commentary on the Abu Ghraib prison that was used to torture prisoners during the Iraq War. Highly distasteful. But, nothing, it seems, is off limits.
So, if you have a thin skin, you might want to stay away. For me, I find most of the parade is in the spirit of good fun. However, a few floats, I felt, have gone too far. I remember when Barack Obama was President, some displays were outright racist. They may or may not have received a middle finger salute from me.
But, I guess, this kind of expression is the price we pay for living in a free society.