Dundalk residents will celebrate this year's red, white and blue holiday with a four-day party -- complete with a phony (as in inedible) cake the size of a compact car. This year's 60th Fourth of July parade will be part of the community's 100th birthday celebration.
In Catonsville, the parade tomorrow is the focal point of a daylong patriotic celebration. In Towson, there is the parade.
Baltimore County's Big Three Fourth of July parades have been holiday traditions for generations.
Although Dundalk, named for a town in Ireland, is the old-timer, the other two go back close to 50 years. Catonsville will have its 48th Independence Day parade tomorrow and Towson, the youngster, its 45th.
The three parades have survived wars, recessions and inclement weather and still attract multitudes every year. A dedicated parade-watcher might even manage to see some of all three tomorrow -- with Dundalk starting at 8:30 a.m., Towson's at 10:30 a.m. and Catonsville's at 3 p.m.
"I think it's safe to say this might very well be the longest continuing parade in the state of Maryland," said Tom Toporovich, retired secretary of the County Council and an organizer for the Dundalk parade. "I think it's going to be an opportunity to display the pride and patriotism of the people in this community. This is a chance for people to feel good about themselves and boast that we are the greatest."
Dundalk's long weekend of birthday festivities puts its parade in the most elaborate context. The celebration leading to the parade began Friday at Dundalk Heritage Park with the annual Heritage Fair showcasing entertainment, arts and crafts, children's rides, games and food.
The four-hour parade, featuring 150 floats, bands and marching units, will start at Logan Village Shopping Center and end at Liberty Parkway and Dunmanway. Fireworks at dusk will wrap up the celebration. And for those who want a glimpse of the car-size cake, it will be on display year-round at Dundalk Community College in all its wood and plaster glory.
More than 200,000 people are expected to watch the parade, said Mr. Toporovich.
For Bob Fogle, president of the Dundalk Heritage Association, the parade holds special memories.
"I can remember all of the old fire engines, and people dressed up as Indians who would chase you all around," Mr. Fogle said. "I can remember the Mummers. . . . That was a big deal for us. Everyone was in the parade. Every organization you can think of was in the parade."
George Abendscheon, the Catonsville parade chairman, predicts a gathering of "35,000 and up" for the Catonsville parade, which will be sandwiched between children's games and races in the morning and musical and veterans tributes and fireworks in the evening.
Whatever the size of the crowd, participants are hoping for an appearance by parade founder Marie O'Dea. She's 94 and hasn't missed one since she started the event in 1947, Mr. Abendscheon said.
Ms. O'Dea, who could not be reached for comment, once told The Sun that the parade was her "idea to keep people from Catonsville off the highways. So I got busy right away. I formed committees, I accosted politicians. I asked for donations. I got a lot of help."
Since Ms. O'Dea got things started, organizers have made few changes in the parade -- which starts on Frederick Road and ends at old Catonsville Elementary School -- with one exception.
"Over the past 10 years, it has gotten much bigger," said Mr. Abendscheon, who has been involved for 11 years. "It's a neighborhood event that brings the whole community together.
"We'll all be looking to see if [Ms. O'Dea] will be there for the 48th. She's the one who started it all; it's just snowballed from there. There's a lot of town spirit in our parade."
In the past three years, after organizers denied requests by the Gay and Lesbian Veterans of Maryland to march in the parade under its banner, the Catonsville parade also has included some controversy. But Mr. Abendscheon did not want to dwell on the matter. "We're just trying to run a good parade," he said. "We don't want to have any distractions on the sideline. That's not what this celebration is about."
The Towson parade was started by Hilda Wilson, owner of Wilson Electric Co. on York Road with her husband.
Tomorrow's activities will begin with a reading of the Declaration of Independence, said Kay Turner, parade committee chairwoman.
As usual, the mile-long parade route will stretch from Towson State University to the old County Courthouse on Washington Avenue. Organizers expect about 100,000 people to line the route to watch the 100 or so parade units. Entertainment will be provided by country-western dancers near the courthouse, and the Oriole Bird will hand out programs.
Wayne Skinner, a former parade chairman and Towson-area resident since age 1, said the family-oriented parade has attracted the same families for years.
"Families stood in the same spot from before," Mr. Skinner said. "People would sit and reserve spaces for their families. . . . It was a family thing for them.
"As a boy, I used to watch the parade. I was one of the little kids who sat on the curb. Then, when I was older, someone asked me to get involved. I said, 'Great.'
"It's just a great feeling as the chairman when you're leading the parade and you wave to the kids who are sitting on the same curb that you were on."
Although the Big Three parades traditionally command the most attention, the county has two other Fourth of July parades -- in Arbutus and Kingsville -- building some history on a smaller scale. Arbutus' parade tomorrow will be its 40th, and Kingsville will hold its 22nd.
"This is one of the smallest parades in the nation, but it takes a lot of people to set it up," said Ed Sers, the Kingsville parade chairman, who predicts a crowd of 5,000 onlookers.
Once the parades are over, committee members said, they immediately will begin reviewing, critiquing and planning the events for next year. Towson organizers plan to videotape tomorrow's parade as a way to learn for next year.
Despite all the long-range planning, nature often plays a role at the last minute. All of the parades have had their bouts with inclement weather.
But a little rain -- or even a lot of rain -- on their parade doesn't keep dedicated participants and watchers away.
Mr. Skinner recalled a 1981 downpour that drenched spectators, floats and bands at the Towson parade.
"People were out there wearing anything to prevent the rain from spoiling their fun . . . raincoats, tents, bathing suits, anything," he said. "They were a bunch of dedicated parade-goers."
Besides, marching in the rain is "the most patriotic thing you can do," said Mr. Fogle of Dundalk.
Rain or shine, the parades always have been colorful events for county historian John McGrain of Towson.
"It's a great way to see who's still alive on your street," Mr. McGrain said.
* Dundalk -- Starts at 8:30 a.m. at Logan Village Shopping Center on Dundalk Avenue; east on Belclare Road, north on Liberty Parkway, west on Dunglow Road, west on Dunmanway, north on Shipping Place, east on Shipway Road, north on Admiral Boulevard and south on Liberty Parkway to the main reviewing stand at Liberty Parkway and Dunmanway.
* Towson -- Starts at 10:30 a.m. at Towson State University; north on York Road, west on Pennsylvania Avenue and south on Washington Avenue to the reviewing stand at Washington and Chesapeake avenues.
* Catonsville -- Starts at 3 p.m. at Frederick Road and Montrose Avenue; east on Frederick, south on Bloomsbury Avenue to the old Catonsville Elementary School.