Festive decorations adorn. Colorful lights aglow. Friends and families gather. As of Friday, November 17th, it will be “beginning to look a lot like Christmas” in the Friendly City. Since its launch in 1930, the Wheeling Christmas parade (later renamed the “Fantasy in Lights” parade has been a source of seasonal merriment and a kick-off to the Holiday Season. Each year, patrons line the streets to watch local performers, bands and community floats entertain, as eager little eyes await the holly jolly appearance of a certain Saint Nick.
“Expect 100,000 For Christmas Parade” reads one headline from a 1936 issue of the Wheeling News Register. 1 An event of this scale hosted almost 2,000 performers, 15 floats, 182 sponsors and an impressive 67 assistant marshals for Grand Marshal John G. Golvig.1 While Wheeling’s annual Christmas Parade looks a little bit different these days, it remains a healthy tradition and a source of community and joy for the entire Ohio Valley.
The parade lineup has always been something special. As a platform for showing off local talent and sponsorship, the parade has provided local dance troupes, performers, marching bands, and organizations an opportunity to be supported by crowds lining the route. We took a look through the archives to dig up some of our favorite memories of parade’s past. Check out these memorable moments!
Mid-Century Mania Questions End to Christmas Parade
Before we had social media to air our grievances, submitting a letter to the editor in your local paper was the way to have your voice heard. That’s exactly what “over-age youngster” did to express their concern about the city not advertising the parade. In search of a post-war return to normalcy, their letters questioned whether the parade would enter the category of “things that used to be,” and ventured to say that citizens would still embrace the parade “whether the street decorations and lights are available at this time or not.”2
1965 Takes a Run for “Funnest Parade Ever”
The 1965 parade saw a number cap in the interest of keeping the event under the allotted 90 minutes. The year boasted more than 4,000 participants and “some 75 parade marshals.” Joe Funk, tenured general parade chairman, with sponsorship from Downtown Wheeling Associates saw 75,000 attendants in what he predicted at the time to be the “funnest parade ever.”3
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01’ Parade Brings Hope Post 9/11
Local performers flooded the streets of Wheeling only a few months after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In the same Intelligencer paper that reports “Taliban Falling Apart,” a headline of hope also reports “Weather, Christmas Spirit, Warm Hearts at Parade.” 80,000 attendants remember the event as unseasonably warm with Wheeling’s own heroes honored: firefighters and local law enforcement were named as the official Grand Marshals. 4
Local Businesses Benefit from Parade Enthusiasts
Former Wheeling Business Owner, Dave Shipley (Sportsmans Club), recalls drawing huge crowds over the years in front of his bar at 1425 Market Street. He remembers, “We always put chairs out for family members to sit and watch the parade. Our granddaughter would sell hot dogs and popcorn to paradegoers. We would give the kids hot chocolate too. It was always a great time. We did that for years.” While Sportsmans has been closed since 2015, it operated for nearly 60 years out of its Market Street location.
New Route. Same Holiday Spirit
Due to the ongoing downtown street construction, the annual Main Street Bank Fantasy in Lights Christmas Parade in Wheeling will rerouted this year to the Centre Market area of town. The parade route will start at the intersection of 24th and Market Streets and make a right turn, traveling north along Main Street for several blocks. The route will then make another right turn at 20th and Main Streets, where the event will end at the next intersection. You can learn more about this year’s parade details by visiting the Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce website.