After 63 years on the midway, baby parade comes to an end

By on September 4, 2019

After 63 years as a mainstay in the annual Ephrata Fair, the baby parade is no more. Costs combined with declining interest sealed the parade’s fate.

“It was a struggle,” Ephrata Farmer’s Day Association President Elaine Sensenig said of the decision to end the parade. “It got really hard. For so long it’s been a part of the fair. We struggled over it last year and thought we’d let it go, but since it was the 100th fair, we said we’ll keep it.”

For the 101st Fair, which opens on Sept. 24, the event is no more.

“Anyone familiar with the baby parade over the past few years knew it was coming down to this,” Sensenig said. “It wasn’t that we were stopping it just because we felt like it. People don’t realize there was more going on behind the scenes. There were years when we had just two participants.”

Seeking an answer to flagging interest, Sensenig said the committee in charge of the parade reached out to other fairs who had similar events, namely Manheim and New Holland. New Holland, she said, combined the baby parade with a pet parade.

“That’s not something we can do at Ephrata because pets aren’t allowed at the fair,” she said.

As for Manheim, Sensenig said parade organizers there were looking to Ephrata for answers even while Ephrata was turning to Manheim for solutions.

“Manheim had a really large baby parade where they actually had announcers announcing as each participant came past,” Sensenig said. “Now they’re also looking at ways to bolster participation.

We were spinning our wheels trying to keep something going that seems to be dying out everywhere.”

Judi (Griffith) Hertz standing beside the float with Jolene (Griffith) Newcomer on the float for the baby parade.

A classic look at the baby parade setting up on Lake Street, near the post office in 1977.

Different things were tried to renew interest including route changes for the parade and more convenient parking for entrants. At its height the parade had formed up on Lake Street, marched down Main to South State, then State to East Fulton and back onto Lake. The problem with that, Sensenig said, is that Lake Street is a major entryway to the fair-going public and crowds of gawkers stopping to look at the kids and their floats severely hampered the judges trying to view the entries.

Last year’s route was Park Avenue, West Main to South State and then along Sugar Alley; total length about one block. Still, the parade, which at its height featured dozens upon dozens of children, drew just 15 marchers and very few spectators.

“It just seemed that nothing was really working to revitalize it,” Sensenig said.

Then there was the issue of costs for ribbons, prize money and to pay judges.

“It was only cost,” Sensenig said. “There was no money being generated from it.”

It was also costly for parents who had to create costumes and, in some cases, elaborate floats in return for very little prize money.
“It wasn’t worth people’s while to do it,” Sensenig said. “Also these days more moms are working. They don’t have the time to put in to making costumes or making a float.”

The baby parade was founded in 1956 and chaired by Miriam Gerhart, wife of Ephrata’s long time mayor and fair president Lloyd Gerhart. She stepped down in 1958 so there was no baby parade that year. In 1959 the baby parade returned through the efforts of Mrs. Harlan Furlow and Mrs. Irvin Messner. Fair officials in 1958 vowed to make “every effort” to keep it permanent.

For several years the parade was preceded by the Ephrata Junior High School marching band.

In 1969 this popular event, which was always held on the fair’s last day, featured eleven sets of twins, ages 16 months to 6 years. The twins and their parents were members of Lancaster County Mothers of Twins Association. All of the twins rode on a single large float entitled “The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe.”

Larry Alexander is a freelance columnist based in Ephrata. He is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He can be contacted at larry2851@yahoo.com. 

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