A need to belong. A need to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. A need to share.--- These are traits which make us human. It is this sense of unity which makes us a community.
Nestled in the mountains of northwestern North Carolina is the small hamlet of Todd. Every 4th of July, the townspeople gather to celebrate this sense of community. It is the annual Liberty Parade. This year, I decided to attend the festive event.
Established in 1837, the village was first known as Elk Cross Roads but was renamed Todd (1894) after its returning Civil War veteran, Joseph Warren Todd. He has been credited for restoring order to the region and thwarting threatening bushwhackers.
Todd’s heyday occurred in the early 20th century as a place for timber harvesting and mining of copper. Prosperity enticed the Virginia-Carolina Railway to extend tracks to the region, supporting the town’s continued growth. This was short lived as the Great Depression of 1934 brought it all to an end. The tracks were soon pulled up and commerce diminished. A devastating flood in 1940 sealed the town’s demise by washing away much of its architecture, leaving little but memories for future generations.
Today, the settlement is a cache of nature’s beauty. A sense of bucolic America prevails throughout, as the New River meanders through the center of town and is framed by the lush vegetation of the surrounding hillsides…What a place for a parade!
Unlike most parades which are highly organized processions of registered participants, this particular pageant is not meant to be entertainment solely for bystanders; but rather, it facilitates participation.
Approximately one hour before the scheduled commencement of the march, people gather to select the costume they would like to wear. Scattered in a large, open field at one end of the town are all the makings of a major costume shop. Masks, capes, windsocks, banners, and so on are assembled in categories for ease of selection. Participants were eagerly making their choices and dressing for the event.
Observing the participants was truly intriguing. As a mask, skirt, or hat was placed on one’s body, their face witnessed an immediate change. It was as if they were experiencing a moment of transformation and enchantment. Individuals were instantly transported out of themselves and inhibitions of daily life. Giggles and grins were the spontaneous reactions. The dressed characters would commune without any hesitation. It was magical. Suddenly, there weren’t any strangers.
This was the vision which Mary Love Hornbacker and Martha Enzmann had for the event at its creation in 2005. Ms. Enzmann, a skilled artist, entrepreneur, and instructor of the arts, had been commissioned in 2004 by the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) to create 2 parades in Paris & Avignon, France. Her experience in creating a community event, enriched by the arts, was instrumental in the Liberty Parade’s success. Starting with a cast of 50 participants, it is now enjoyed by over 250.
The parade route is a meager 110 yards long. The entire processional can pass you in a mere ten minutes… Yet, this is a visual feast for the crowd of 300-500 bystanders.--The colors are rich. The characters are fantastical. A sense of sophisticated whimsy prevails. It reminded me of a Venetian Fete. I did not want it to end.
Every year the parade is given a theme. This becomes the signature for the costumes and mindset of its participants. Subject to its location, “Nature” has been an ongoing foundation for many of the event’s themes: wind, water, and wildlife. This year’s watchwords were: “Unity Builds Community”. A more aptly worded theme could not be penned for a holiday which celebrates the birth of a nation.
Those who were costume-clad andthose who stood in awe felt as one. We were all a part of something bigger than just ourselves. We had become a “community”--even for just a few fleeting moments.