Marblehead Independence Tradition Continues



Jared Charney

In a close-knit Marblehead neighborhood, a century-old summer tradition lives on. 

The folks who live in the Clifton Heights neighborhood of Marblehead have been celebrating the Fourth of July since the turn of the last century. Based on oral histories and old notebooks, they continue the old-fashioned celebration started by summer residents in the 1890s. They gather on common ground called "the green" for a "horribles" costume parade to the music of a ragtag band, followed by games, then a trip to their rocky beach for a dinner of lobster and clams that have been steaming all afternoon.

A Master and Mistress of Ceremonies direct activities and a board of judges gives prizes to the best costumes (and to all the others!). A peanut hunt commences, during which the littlest ones—often the children of former peanut-hunters—collect peanuts sprinkled on the lawn while teens and adults pull on burlap bags and compete in potato sack races. There are watermelon- and pie-eating (no hands allowed!) contests. Youngsters get to stomp on balloons tied to other kids’ ankles, while adults and teens race to see who can pop a balloon the fastest by sitting on it.

Every year, this massive effort runs smoothly. Boiled potatoes, steamed corn, and coleslaw arrive at the lobster bake from neighborhood kitchens, and folks dig in. The residents of Clifton Heights are closely knit, and they connect at other times of the year—on a Yahoo! group account, at summer sing-alongs, two cocktail parties, movies on the green, a neighborhood yard sale, a progressive dinner, or during rapid swims in freezing water.

Thanks to those who set the pattern, those who live here now can look forward to future generations carrying on these cherished patterns of connection.

The Parade

With no rehearsals and whatever instruments are at hand, the Clifton Heights Band manages to lead the parade twice around the green.

The Egg Toss

A thrilling egg toss, first for kids under 12, then for adults, sends raw eggs across an ever-widening gap until all but one go "splat," as they collide with something—or someone. Lunch at home often includes first washing off egg yolk before it stains.

The Lobster Bake

Nothing tastes quite as good as eating with your hands while sitting with good friends high above the sea.

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