By Maddy Vitale, OCNJDaily
Even the grumpiest person will smile — at least a little — when watching the Baby Parade in Ocean City. The clever, entertaining and adorable outfits are likely the main reasons it is one of the oldest baby parades in the country.
“We have the longest continuously held baby parade is the nation, tracing back to Aug. 10, 1901,” Ocean City historian and resident Ken Cooper explained on Saturday. “It is just a feel-good event. The parents are very proud walking their kids down the Boardwalk.”
The 111th annual Baby Parade is at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 12. Registration is open to families with children ages 10 and under. In addition to the babies will be performances and commercial floats.
The debut of the parade in 1901 featured just 46 babies, a far cry from the much bigger number of participants in recent years.
While the categories now include fancy and comic attire and floats, which also include wagons strollers, in the early days of the Baby Parade there were much different categories.
“There were three categories in the old days. It was the prettiest, the cutest and the fattest baby category,” Cooper pointed out. “Remember, in the old days, people always felt that a chubby baby was healthier than a skinny baby. It was the turn of the century. Times have changed.”
Each year, parents dress up their children in adorable, unusual, creative and often themed attire.
They stroll down the Boardwalk from Sixth Street to 14th Street, amusing, entertaining and delighting crowds.
The spectacle of colorful floats, wagons and strollers make for photo ops and oohs and aahs from the crowds as the Grand Marshal leads the parade with much pomp and circumstance each year.
Cooper spoke about the Baby Parades in the 1960s when he worked on the beach renting out rafts, umbrellas and chairs to visitors.
Each year, he noted, business boomed on the day of the Baby Parade.
“We literally closed down the beaches and took every single, solitary chair and lined them up on the Boardwalk,” Cooper explained. “We would be up at 6 a.m. It was big day, and it was always a big day in Ocean City.”
During the 1960s and ’70s, people would spend days leading up to the parade getting their floats, wagons, strollers and baby outfits and costumes prepared for the big event.
But for a time in the ’80s, ’90s and even in the 2000s, Cooper said interest in the parade waned.
“It has definitely had highs and lows, but I think now it is as popular as ever,” Cooper said.
He attributed the event’s recent years of new-found popularity to the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce and the city for showcasing the reasons everyone should love a parade – especially a baby parade.
“It is a cute little thing in town, something that people enjoy and makes us who we are. I’ve been a realtor for 40 years and I know people have been planning their vacations around the baby parades,” he said.
Cooper continued, “I know we get a lot of visitors, but really we are a small town. This is a fun, family-oriented event. This is what we do. This is who we are in Ocean City.”
Complete information and registration is available at www.ocnj.us/BabyParade