The sidewalks along Heritage Square in downtown Flagstaff filled with people Tuesday as “Stars and Stripes Forever” began to blare from an oncoming truck signaling the official beginning of the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce Fourth of July Parade.
For some, however, the morning began much earlier than the 9 a.m. parade start time. Paul Rondeau and his family arrived at the parade route at about 5:15 Tuesday morning to set up the perfect viewing spot: a porch swing on a fully shaded patch of sidewalk.
“We’ve been doing this for five or six years,” Rondeau, who splits his time between Flagstaff and Gilbert, said. “This is one of the greatest parades I’ve ever been to.”
Rondeau said he and his family planned to round out the day with a barbeque, play horseshoes, foosball and maybe fly his drone.
“We did the fireworks last night,” he said.
This year’s parade was the first time the parade offered bleacher seating specifically for military veterans and their families, giving those who served their country a front row seat for the parade.
“I think this is really cool,” Richard Jones, a Marine Corps veteran said. “When I was in, from 1967 to 1971, we were not looked upon as heroes, so it is kind of neat now.”
Jones said he has been in Flagstaff since 1979, and he has been coming to the parade every year, this year with his grandchildren in tow.
The parade boasted 120 entries this year, including some newcomers and others who had marched for years.
Alex Koss, a member of the Sons of Norway, a Scandinavian organization that honors heritages from Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark, said the group has been marching in the parade for the last five or six years.
This year, Koss’ wife, Rebecca Nordstrom, designed the Viking ship float on which the group sailed in the parade.
The ship is a big hit with the parade audience, Koss said.
“Everybody loves the Vikings,” he said. “We will pillage our way through the parade.”
Chris Scully, the owner of the Orpheum Theater, said this was the first year the Orpheum had its own float in the parade. The float, which was pulled by a 1962 Volkswagen bus, featured the mockup of the building’s marquee.
“We resurrected it as the centerpiece for the float,” Scully said. The decision to enter a float this year was in part to celebrate the theater’s centennial, which will be marked officially in August, but Scully said the entry could become an annual tradition.
“I’ve lived along the parade route for 27 years,” he said.
Another new parade entry brought an even longer connection to history. The descendants of John and Susan Elden, some of the earliest settlers in Flagstaff, rode in the parade with John Westerlund, a historian who has been studying the Eldens’ history.
Beth Wilson, one of the Elden descendants, said genealogy is her hobby, and while she never lived in Flagstaff, she and her family felt a strong connection with the city.
“It’s really amazing,” she said. “The people have been really welcoming.”
Wilson and her sisters said people in Flagstaff had been really excited to talk to them while they have been in town, and said they have noticed people in Flagstaff are very interested in “the local lore.”
“Flagstaff is very proud of its history,” said Melanie Heil, another Elden descendant.