Words by Eric Twardzik
Ah, the Fourth of July. A day for celebrating America’s independence by grilling with neighbors, watching fireworks and racing lobsters. Well, in some parts of the country anyway. The single day we set aside each year to celebrate American exceptionalism has created some small town traditions that are… exceptional.
From frog jumping to fence painting to what may be the world’s briefest parade route, here are the most unique ways in which some communities celebrate our independence—and their own sense of individuality—every 4th of July.
Lobster Races in Bar Harbor, Maine
For many New Englanders, a split hot dog bun filled with lobster meat is just as integral to the Fourth as a fireworks show. But the seaside town of Bar Harbor, Maine, does more than just place lobster on rolls. Each 4th of July, the crustaceans are placed in a six-track tank and cheered to the finish line by a throng of bet-placing onlookers. Every bet is $1, and winners receive $2—the rest of the proceeds go toward a local YMCA scholarship program. You heard that right: charitable lobsters.
More info, image courtesy of MDI YMCA
Stone Skipping in Mackinac Island, Michigan
They say America is a nation of competitors. Proving that point is Mackinac Island, Michigan, which holds not one, but two, stone skipping tournaments on our nation’s birthday. The first is the Honorable Judge Glen Allen Open Tournament, which begins with a clinic taught by “world champion” stone skippers before giving amateurs and those under 12 years old the chance to skip competitively. It’s the second event—the Wilmer T. Rabe International Stone Skipping Tournament—that draws the pros. These skipping savants have been known to rack up 20 skips or more, with last year’s winner achieving a grand total of 27. You could consider him a… “rock star.”
More info, image courtesy of Mackinac Island Tourism
Fence Painting in Hannibal, Missouri
In Hannibal, Missouri, the Fourth isn’t just Independence Day. It’s also part of “Tom Sawyer Days,” a holiday that was recognized by Missouri lawmakers in 1961. Citizens of the town, which counts Mark Twain as a favorite son, mark the day by donning Tom Sawyer-era apparel and doing the one chore Twain’s wily protagonist wouldn’t: paint a picket fence white. Contestants must work their way through three tiers—local, state, and national—and are evaluated according to costume, speed, and the quality of their finished fence. The final winner is awarded the Governor’s trophy. If only Tom knew there were prizes involved…
More info, image courtesy of VisitHannibal.com
The World’s Shortest Parade in Aptos, California
Some parades try to be the first, the biggest, or the longest—but Aptos, California, has discovered a different way to claim a title. Covering a distance of just two blocks, this parade may be short on geography, but it has no shortage of attendees: the micro-march attracts enough walkers to last two hours. In fact, it might be America’s longest shortest parade.
More info, image courtesy of the Aptos Chamber of Commerce
Frog Jumping in Forks, Washington
The Washington town of Forks proudly describes its 4th of July celebration as being “old fashioned.” A more apt description may be “everything we could think of.” Festivities include a salmon bake, a demolition derby—and competitive frog jumping. The frog jump is broken down into four age brackets, with three winners chosen from each depending on how just how far their chosen amphibian can leap. You might say that Forks has a “leap day” every year.
More info, image courtesy of Lonnie Archibald via City of Forks
Midnight 4th of July Parade in Gatlinburg, Tennessee
How exactly do you snag the title of “First Fourth of July Parade in the Nation?” The Tennessee mountain town of Gatlinburg found a novel way: stage the parade as soon as the clock strikes midnight. The two-mile parade attracts 80,000 onlookers, and its participants include high school marching bands, floats, and military veterans. Because patriotism has no bedtime.
More info, image courtesy of Gatlinburg CVB