Thirty-three years ago, when Erika Pinto was 2 months old, her mom and dad dressed her as a jogger and pulled her around the Ocean Beach village green in a wagon in the annual July Fourth Baby Parade.
On Friday, Pinto will dress her own daughter, Amelia, 2, in fairy wings and a blue tutu, and lead her around the same parade route in a wagon draped with iridescent blue fabric. "It's fun to feel part of the action on July Fourth," Pinto says.
The annual Baby Parade -- with wagons as floats -- has been a tradition for generations in the Ocean Beach community of Fire Island. Because cars aren't allowed on the barrier beach island, red Radio Flyer wagons and other types of wagons are what families use to haul suitcases, groceries and even tired children. On July Fourth, those wagons become the basis for 50 to 90 themed floats featuring children in costume. Some are quite elaborate, using cardboard and paint to create backdrops and having Mom and Dad walk beside as characters from their theme.
"It's the cutest thing," says Patty Brahe of Manhattan and Ocean Beach, who has been entering her son Tyler, 7, in the parade every summer since he was born, later adding his brother, Owen, now 3. Tyler has been a basketball player, Charlie Brown in front of Snoopy's doghouse, and the Good Humor man in his ice-cream truck. This year he and Owen plan to dress as Shaggy and Scooby from the cartoon "Scooby-Doo," with their wagon made into the Mystery Machine and Mom as Velma.
Because many summer residents can't drive off the island to get materials, they become quite innovative, using cardboard from Ocean Beach businesses and items such as inner tubes to decorate the wagons, Brahe says.
"I love to see what people come up with, what they've used from around their house," Brahe says. "It forces you to be really resourceful with whatever you've got. I almost feel like I'm cheating if I go to Michaels."
TROPHIES AND ICE CREAM
The parade kicks off at 11 a.m. at the Ocean Beach Volunteer Fire Department and travels around the village green, finishing at the reviewing stand on the front deck of the Albatross restaurant, where the mayor of Ocean Beach and other VIPs sit, says Carol Kushner, who is on the board of the Ocean Beach Community Fund, which sponsors the parade.
The fire department leads the parade with a fire truck, and a band joins in as well. Spectators gather two and three deep around the village square, clapping and cheering, and some toss candy into the children's wagons, which Tyler says is one of his favorite parts. "When you go around, you get a trophy and there's a coupon for an ice cream," he adds.
After the hourlong parade -- floats go around only once, because much longer and the babies in them get too hot and start crying, Kushner says -- participants and spectators are invited to a picnic, where hot dogs and drinks will be for sale as a fire department fundraiser.
The parade is a way for the people who summer on Fire Island to introduce babies born in their hometowns over the winter to the community, Kushner says. Some form of a baby parade has been happening in Ocean Beach for more than 100 years, she says.
"It's patriotic. It's Americana," says Clay Siegert, who grew up in Port Washington, lives in Boston, and has a family home in Ocean Bay Park. He's created floats for the past several summers featuring his daughters, now 5, 3 and 1; his sister, Anne, and her family come up from Louisiana and participate in the event.
"I break out the drill," Siegert says, to make wood platforms for the wagon for the kids to sit on, for instance. His vision for this year: A giant lobster pot filled with dry ice for steam, with the kids dressed as lobsters and crabs.