4th of July – The Shirttail Parade

Shirttail parade early 1950s, probably 1954

One of the most popular events of local Fourth of July celebrations back in the late 40s and 50s was the “shirttail parade”. In Calais and St. Stephen men dressed in all manner of female attire, sometimes quite provocative and following a band or bands paraded from the Calais Fire Station on Church Street, along Main Street and across the bridge to St. Stephen. The bands in the parade above may well have been the Highland Pipe Band and the Marx Band from St. John N.B.

In the photo above the street sign for Church Street can be seen to the far left and the Opera House is in the background, so we know the parade had just begun at the Fire Station.

Spectators had a lot to say to the paraders

According to Jim Kelley the locals looked forward to this annual event with much anticipation. They found it quite entertaining to heckle and insult the men who were dressed in nightgowns, bathrobes and all sorts of female nightwear as they paraded from the Fire Hall the length of Main Street and across the bridge to St. Stephen.  Jim says the parade was always held after dark because the participants needed all the daylight hours to put themselves in the proper frame of mind for the parade.

The two spectators at the center of the photo are Bob Alexander in the white pants and to his left Phil McGarrigle.

A typical shirttail parade is described in the Bangor Daily News of July 5, 1954.

Calais, July 4

A crowd estimated by local police at more than 3000 persons- young and old jammed the sidewalks and Main St. of Calais Saturday evening to witness the shirt tail parade staged by firemen from four border communities to herald a three-day celebration of Independence Day.


Firemen from Calais, Milltown, St. Stephen, and Milltown NB together with just public-spirited citizens, members of the New Brunswick Highland pipe band and St. Mary’s band from St. John NB joined in the parade dressed as buxom women, clowns, brides and other assorted bits of humanity.

Both firemen and policemen were unanimous in their opinion that this was the largest crowd ever to assemble in the city for any type of parade across the Saint Croix River. In Saint Stephen an additional bunch of onlookers estimated at about 1000 was on hand to greet the paraders who marched down the main streets of both towns.

The costumes were always interesting

We’re not sure of the location of this photo but believe it is Roy Ryan’s Royal Lunch at the corner of Main and Church Streets. It is dated 1959.

Jerry Lapointe recalls:

“Shirttail parades” were held every year on the night before the 4th of July.  I remember going down to the end of Union Street to watch them with my father when I was probably 8 or 9.  My father knew many of the men in the parade and they usually had quite a good time.  I don’t remember when they stopped having them but after probably the late 50s or very early 60s, I don’t think there were any more of them.

While shirttail may have disappeared from Calais 4th of July celebrations by the mid 60s they continued in Woodland into the 2000’s on Labor Day and in Lubec the shirttail parade remains a highlight of the 4th of July festivities. From the 2023 Lubec schedule of events for the 4th of July:

How about those parades? All will be held Tuesday, July 4. The big one, with a theme of “Blast from the Past,” will start at 1 p.m. and will follow the traditional route down Washington Street to Water Street, then back over the Main Street hill as it returns to the school. That evening is the Shirttail Parade, a usually raucous collection where just about everything goes, starting at 6 p.m. and following the same route.

The origin of the shirttail parade is a bit murky. It appears to have originally been a way of hazing cadets and plebs at military schools by dragging them from bed in the middle of the night and forcing them to march in their nightgowns down the main street of town. In later years it became an end of school year event at colleges and while usually a rather innocuous although rowdy celebration, this was not always the case.

Enterprise Herald Wausa Nebraska May 25, 1900


 Riotous Culmination of the Annual Shirttail Parade of Nebraska University Boys.


Arrest of One of Their Number Cause of the Demonstration -Serious Consequences Narrowly Averted.

Lincoln, Neb May 18

Armed with loaded revolvers, clubs, ban of iron, brickbats and empty tin cans, a howling mob of between 500 and 800 university students last night made a determined attack on the city jail, almost demolishing the front of the structure. In the melee Officer Tony Harr suffered a leg broken at the knee, besides being braised and battered about the body by the infuriated students.

A number of students were knocked down by the clubs of the police, headed by Chief Hoagland, who came to the rescue of Harr. All the front windows of the jail were smashed by the clubs and bricks thrown through them by the students, while the stout paneled door was splintered into kindling wood. After nearly killing Harr, as they thought, the students persisted in their attack and were only driven off when Chief Hoagland ordered the jail force to arm with Winchesters and defend themselves.

 The riot, which is the worst perpetrated by the student body, came as the grand finale of what is known as the annual shirt tail parade.

Early in the evening the students, dressed in white trousers, with flowing nightgowns worn over the lower garment, paraded, discharging revolvers, holding up motor cars, forcing the conductors from the platforms, derailing the trolleys and cutting the trolley ropes, until the streetcar service was paralyzed. Assembling at last before the city jail, a student, mounted on the shoulders of his fellows, announced that the grand climax of the parade was now to be given. The policemen, all unaware of the intentions of the students, drew up before the jail and watched their movements with interest. Suddenly there was a cry of “Down with the police! and the students to avenge, it is said, the arrest and fining of one of their number, William McCoy, last Saturday for discharging firearms in the heart of the city made a concerted rush upon the little platoon of police. Officer Tony Hare was the first to fall into their clutches. He was knocked down and upon attempting to defend himself was beaten almost into insensibility with clubs. Chief Hoagland and three patrolmen, with drawn clubs, made a dash at the mob, and for a time this battle waged hot and heavy, both police and students receiving lasting marks of the fray.

In the meantime, Captain Ireland, under cover of the counterattack, bore Harr into the station. The students, seeing the luckless officer being borne beyond their grasp, made a bold attempt to break into the jail, smashing the windows and battering down the outside door. Chief Hoagland then bade his men retreat, crying: ‘Get your winchesters, boys, and defend yourselves.” At first the students retreated in a body, resisting all attempts to arrest any of their number. Officer Harr was found to be badly hurt and will be laid up for some time. Public indignation is aroused to high pitch over the affair.

We suspect the Lubec parade tomorrow will be more sedate, although it is sure to be interesting.

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