New to RI: Bristol July Fourth parade gives a slice of America in the smallest state

Amy Russo | The Providence Journal >>

Nothing says small-town America like Bristol.

Everyone is known by their first name, mom-and-pop shops line the streets, and just last month, locals discovered what’s believed to be the oldest surviving American flag in a storage bin in the town hall.

David DelPoio/The Providence Journal

If you’re still not convinced, Bristol boasts the oldest Independence Day parade in the country, dating back to 1785. Though locals will correct you, noting that it’s the patriotic exercises — a pre-parade round of speeches and awards — that earn the town its distinction. The events are even kicked off by a town crier. Mike Reilly has held the ceremonial post since 2015, and he’s vowed to keep marching “until I’m old and decrepit.”

If you’re wondering whether he actually says “Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye,” he does. He also rings a bell and wears a 20-pound Colonial-era uniform.

This past weekend marked my first Fourth in Rhode Island, and spending it in Bristol was akin to having been summoned to the mothership of patriotic celebrations, complete with musket fire, a theatrical retelling of the story behind “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and the privilege of marching alongside state General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, who is all but the parade’s mascot.

In 37 years, he’s missed just four parades, absences he calls “heartbreaking.”

For Magaziner, the tradition runs in the family, his mother having served as the parade’s chief marshal last year. This year, she was given her own division in the event, waving to the crowd from a red, white and blue convertible.

Magaziner grew up in Bristol, joining the parade planning committee at age 18 when he was tasked with overseeing the port-a-potty situation. To his dismay, unruly teenagers heaved one into the harbor on the eve of the festivities.

The following year, having recruited his brother to take his position, Magaziner was promoted to water bottle distribution. Lined up waiting to march, I observed a red-and-blue-clad young woman who now holds the job. Her arms full of water bottles, she weaved between the rows of participants like a general rounding up her troops, warning them to hydrate before the long march. 

But it’s the spectators who brave the most. Huddled along the 2½-mile route, attendees young and old waited for hours for the procession to begin, some having staked out spots overnight, sleeping on comforters strewn across lawns.

Their provisions weren’t just water bottles, but offerings from several Del’s dispensaries and glazed and sprinkled treats from the local Sip ‘n Dip, a doughnut shop promising sugar highs to weary watchers who had surely awakened before dawn.

Magaziner’s sister makes an annual habit of waking at 5 a.m. to hold down a spot for the family. 

Though he walked alongside Rhode Island’s congressional delegation, the governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state, Magaziner, a Bristolian by birth, received the warmest welcome, repeatedly hurrying out of the procession to greet friends and loved ones.

For Magaziner, the tradition runs in the family, his mother having served as the parade’s chief marshal last year. This year, she was given her own division in the event, waving to the crowd from a red, white and blue convertible.

In a pair of red tennis shoes, and with notepad in hand, I walked in the legion of marchers that followed, in awe of the spectacle.

Magaziner said it best: “It feels like a Norman Rockwell thing.”

Read the full article at The Providence Journal