ANDERSON, Ind. —
Anderson has always loved a parade, especially at Christmas time.
The Anderson Christmas parade was a tradition that spanned six decades, although not continuously.
The parade was sponsored by the Retail Merchants Division of the Chamber of Commerce. In the early days, the arrival of Santa Claus was considered sufficiently important to close school. A contributing factor was probably that a large percentage of local school children were in the parade for one reason or another — marching with the Scouts, playing in the high school band, walking about dressed as a character or shepherding a balloon.
In the ‘30s and ‘40s, the parade began at Fifth and Meridian, marched up Meridian Street to 15th Street, turned left toward Main Street and then left again to march to Fifth and Main, where it disbanded.
Always a visit by Santa
In 1939, the Anderson High School band opened the parade. Some 25 floats, chiefly nursery rhyme-, fairy tale- and Bible story-themed, passed the large, eager crowds. (The most spectacular seems to have been a 56-foot iguana dragon and a 27-ton Saurian monster.)
Walking characters like Raggedy Ann and Andy, the Alphabet Kids, Mary’s Little Lamb and an army of Wooden Soldiers entertained the crowd. After the parade, Santa Claus came to the south side of Courthouse Square to meet with children. In later years, he visited the various downtown department stores that afternoon. That evening the Christmas lights were turned on for the first time and the Christmas season officially began.
In 1940, New York and Macy’s had nothing on Anderson. The outstanding feature of the local Christmas parade was a host of 30 gigantic balloons. The balloons, made by Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and designed by a famous theatrical producer, took weeks to design, manufacture and hand-paint. They were pumped up with portable air compressors, each balloon taking about 30 minutes to inflate.
They were guided through the streets by 250 junior and senior high school boys, some dressed in costumes to complement the balloon they guided.
There was a Felix the Cat, three dragons (one with two heads), a variety of farm and zoo animals and (perhaps in tribute to the local high school) an Indian chief with wife and papoose. Five high school bands (and Santa) completed the show.
In the late ‘50s, the parade was put aside for a few years and replaced by a Community Christmas Observance, which included a community presentation of the “Messiah,” a house decoration contest and a theater party for children and a teenage dance sponsored by the Rotary Club.