Marching with Uncle Sam

2019 marks longtime Hingham resident George Ford's 12th year marching as Uncle Sam in the Hingham Fourth of July parade. He's a familiar and well-loved figure strolling along the parade route, waving to the crowd. He's hoping to continue in that role at least until he hits the 20-year-mark!

Hingham, meet "Uncle Sam."

Courtesy of Crow Point Creations

What makes the Hingham parade special?

The Hingham Fourth of July Parade, in various forms, has taken place since the latter part of the 19th Century.  It had a different “look” and perspective, particularly the 1940s and 1950s from the present.  In those years, the celebration of the 4th of July emphasized patriotic activities and duties, with few marching bands or units, and groups of marching residents.  Activities beyond the parade itself included the ringing bells from the churches and Bell Tower, sporting events, and picnics.  There was no parade, as such, during the WWII years. “Uncle Sam” first appeared in the parade of 1933. There was a hiatus of “Sam” until 1946 when town resident Frances (Frannie) Wright assumed the role – and continued with it for 29 years – tall, stately, he was the classic!!

Courtesy of Crow Point Creations

How has this event changed over the years?

Over the years, the parade has taken on more of an emphasis of “wheels,” with floats and mechanized units.  It is a true spectator event. It still has the characteristics of a “small town parade” in that various community groups put in floats and we honor residents, including the honorary marshal and various of the youth athletic teams are included and celebrated.  The major change in the parade over the years was reversing its course – it used to start at Station Street and march up Pear Tree Hill ending at what is now the high school. That uphill travel took its toll and it was decided to reverse the course, particularly since the staging area for performers was more adequate at the high school than Station Street.

What are some of the highlights spectators can look forward to during this year's parade?

This year’s parade has the many performers of the past, but has added three additional fife and drum units, a Mariachi Band and additional stilt-walkers.

What's your favorite part of your Uncle Sam role?

Years ago when I headed up the Advisory Committee and completed my term in 1972, I was asked by the Selectmen what I would next like to do.  I told them I wanted to be Uncle Sam in the parade. They replied that I had to be a grandfather and have gray hair. When Alden Carpenter, M.D., my predecessor, decided to give up the role, 12 years ago, I immediately seized upon the position since I was then a grandfather and had gray hair.  The spectators along the parade route are particularly enjoyable and I always take time to shake hands with young spectators and/or some of our disabled citizens along the route.

Courtesy of Crow Point Creations

What role do you play on the Fourth of July Parade Committee in addition to marching as Uncle Sam?

In my role on the Parade Committee, I locate performers and attempt to entice their coming to Hingham then negotiate contracts with them.  It is a difficult process because we compete with towns like Duxbury, Wakefield, Bristol, Rhode Island and others for our performers. For example, we have a number of units who will march in our parade and then go to the Wakefield parade in the afternoon.  While some performers have committed to us for decades, others do not have loyalty and move on to other towns. In this, my 12th year as Uncle Sam, I welcome the opportunity to walk the parade route and lead the parade.  Over the years, the role of Uncle Sam has been accorded to a senior citizen in the town who has been participatory in civic activities.  It is quite an honor to be selected as Uncle Sam and I cherish the role.

Are there any particular challenges?

The challenge to being Uncle Sam is having an adequate beard!  It has been suggested that I grow a beard, but that does not work out very well.  As a result, making sure that the beard stays glued in place turns out to be the biggest challenge, particularly if it is a warm day and there is perspiration.  The costume has been passed down for many years and to fit into the present costume, one has to be about 6 feet, 175 pounds. I complement the costume by wearing white shoes which I first obtained when commissioned as an Ensign in the United States Navy in 1960.  I have worn these in each parade and they are now almost 60 years old. The hat has been passed down from Uncle Sam to Uncle Sam. The lore is that the hat dates back to the late 19th Century.  Each year after the parade it is put into wooden blocks to maintain its shape.

What is your favorite memory as Uncle Sam?

Being able to lead the parade the Uncle Sam is a distinct honor.  It is a most enjoyable happenstance through the year when folks refer to me as “Uncle Sam” when around Town or shopping at the Fruit Center.

Anything you would like to suggest about how to make the fireworks happen next year?

It is unfortunate that the fireworks has been canceled for this year – it has been the start of the Fourth of July festivities in town for decades and it will be sorely missed.  It has been suggested that the Parade Committee take on the added burdens of the fireworks, but that may simply be too ambitious a task. Parade Committee members meet many times through the year, locate performers, make the logistical arrangements for the composition and the lineup for the parade, and raise money for the parade, etc. (the parade is self-sustaining and does not receive Town funds!).  It would be much better for the town if another group took over from the Lion’s Club and dealt with the logistics of the firework demonstration. There is no doubt in my mind that the town can adequately provide contributions for the financial cost of the fireworks but it is the manpower that is required.

Anything else you would like to share?

The Fourth of July Parade is as about “All American” as one can get.  The red, white and blue stripe down Middle Street and Main Street remains through the year to remind us of how important the Fourth of July Parade is to the town – in my view, it is the essence of Hingham and hopefully we will see all hands there on July 4th.

Courtesy of Crow Point Creations

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