A wonderful and extremely rare broadside advertisement, carried off with great panache, for the Elmira, New York 1867 horribles parade, a quintessential (though obscure) American ritual that traces its origins to the early national period and to a robust American appetite for irreverent humor.
Horribles Parades, so named because they began as parodies of the ceremonies of the iconic Ancient and Honorable (or “Horrible”) Artillery, originated in the early decades of the 19th century as an irreverent counterpart to official celebrations of the Fourth of July. They spread rapidly, and though at first spontaneous and informal, they became more organized, probably to prevent the main event from being overtaken by revelers.
Along the way these parades gave rise to a remarkable genre of promotional broadsides, presumably issued in advance of the events in question. I have over the years owned perhaps five or six, from places as far afield as Greenfield and Newton, Massachusetts; Troy, New York; and Buena Vista, California. Aside from their great rarity and documentary value, they stand out for their inventiveness, their embrace of absurdity, and their appealing blend of varied typography and bold patriotic imagery.
Offered here is a quintessential example of a Horribles parade broadside, promoting a parade to take place in Elmira, New York on July 4, 1867. The title, “Our Country! The Whole Country!! Nothing But Our Whole Country!” is a reference to the peroration of Daniel Webster’s June 17, 1825 speech at the laying of the cornerstone of the Bunker Hill Monument. From there it’s all downhill: The text is packed with all the silliness, grotesquerie, word-play, and satire that epitomized this special ritual. For example, the program was to begin as follows:
“The Procession will form, sometime between sunrise and sunset, at some unknown place, within or without the Corporation under the direction of Commander in Chief, Gigadier Brindle NOS POS ROS ROCQRAPHIOUS ! ASSISSTED BY HIS AID-DE-CAMP, FITZ MULROGGINS”
The parade would feature, among others, the “Rag Fagg Cavalry, embracing all the eminent, conspicuous and notorious characters who ever cyphered on earth from the time Noah’s Raft stuck on mount Zoar”; “the superb establishment of Count Codfish Swill-up-and-bust full”; and “Citizens, Loafers and Ragged Urchins”. This was to be followed by an order of ceremonies including a “solo whistled by Mons. Thinlips”, “Yankee Doodle whistled in concert”, and “a silent wave of the hats of the whole assemblage”. Both the tone and visual appeal of the broadside are greatly enhanced by the inclusion in the title of a large, inverted wood engraving of an American eagle bearing a sash reading “The Voice of 1867.”
Horribles Parades seem to have died out for a time in the late 19th century, only to be revived when a Fourth of July “Ancient and Horribles Parade” came to life again in 1927 in the little village of Chepachet, in the town of Glocester, Rhode Island. It spread rapidly and is today very much alive and well in New England, though its antics can far exceed anything remotely imaginable in the 19th century (Just try searching YouTube for “Horribles Parade” and “Salem” or “Beverly Farms.”) I have yet to find a systematic study of the subject, but this ritual deserves attention for its place in the history of grass roots American culture.
Not in OCLC. Some time ago Robert Rubin of Robert H. Rubin Books (Brookline, Mass.) offered a broadside from Newton, Massachusetts’ 1865 Horribles Parade. His description was superb, and with his permission I have borrowed liberally therefrom.