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The Virginia Museum Where Parade Floats Go to Die

The Virginia Museum Where Parade Floats Go to Die

The parade never ends at this parade float museum (Photo: American Celebration on Parade)

Ever wonder what happens to parade floats after the politicians and pageant winners are done flashing their pearly whites and waving from atop them? Once the marching band music stops, the bunting’s been taken down, and the confetti has been swept away, the floats — once the parade’s centerpieces — are largely forgotten, living only in photos.

But some of the biggest, and most famous floats, end up here at  "American Celebration on Parade". As you step inside this 40,000-square-foot museum in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, you are immediately struck by oversized sparkly gold tinsel hanging from the ceiling, 12-foot bunnies doing housework, and a family of giant ducks toting umbrellas while they are “Singing in the Rain.” Patriotic songs and Disney favorites blare tinnily from an exhibit as you ponder the unique awesomeness of America!

amercan celebration on parade in virginia

American Celebration on Parade houses floats that celebrate Americana (Photo: ShenandoahCaverns.com)

Many floats were featured in Rose Parades and some were built by Earl Hargrove Jr., who founded the museum. Inside this wonderland, our childhood love of dollhouses gets flipped inside out. You are dwarfed by an oddly adorable 50-foot-tall dog perched in a Radio Flyer, and a group of pelicans whose wide-open gullets could swallow you whole. This is what 1950s Main Street America would look like on an acid trip.

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They’re “Quacking in the Rain.” These “singing” ducks are one of the delightfully kitschy parade floats you’ll see at the museum (Photo: American Celebration on Parade)

Many floats are still in working condition; one float features a circus mother elephant who dips her trunk to give her baby elephant a ride with the push of a button. Up close (as I was one of only 7 visitors that day, I got very close), you can study the floats’ simple but durable construction materials like Styrofoam, corn husks, and even kidney beans.

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This is what 1950s Main Street America would look like on an acid trip (Photo: Kim Rittberg)

But these are no school dioramas. Hargrove built floats for every presidential inauguration from Truman to Obama and keeps some outsized memorabilia here. If you weren’t in a particularly patriotic mood today, take a peek at the enormous eagle and presidential seal. Feeling the pride? Well, have a look at the American flag proudly “waving” with 5,000 square yards of fabric standing at 63 feet by 24 feet. Constructed for President Reagan’s 1985 inaugural parade, which was canceled due to cold, it was moved inside and finally took its star turn in President George H.W. Bush’s 1989 inauguration. Hargrove is a master recycler (an eco-friendly and savvy businessman!), re-using some items for over 50 years!

earl hargrove

Museum founder Earl Hargrove built floats for every inauguration from Truman to Obama (Photo: Getty Images)

If you’re still hesitant to take the two-hour drive from Washington D.C. just to look at floats, $23 will also get you a pass to the impressive Shenandoah Caverns next door.  This enormous complex has given birth to stalactites and stalagmites made of different minerals, which create a wide variety of colors and formations. It even has an area dubbed the “Bacon Room” because, yes, nature makes rocks that look like delicious breakfast meat.

shenandoah caverns

The Bacon Room (Photo: Kim Rittberg)

But did you really need more convincing? The float museum is kitschy, colorful and fun; the pics you take there will make you the coolest person on social media. 

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