By Abi Smith - AmeriCorps Member
Above: 1939 Lewisburg Shanghai Parade
The Shanghai Parade is a major event each year in Lewisburg, attracting thousands of people to gather and celebrate the start of a new year. Despite its popularity, this New Years event is shrouded in mystery. When did it begin? Who started it? and How did it get the name Shanghai? To figure out more about the parade, I did a little digging. It wasn’t long before I realized that I was not alone in my questions. Previous research into the Shanghai Parade was conducted by long time Greenbrier Historical Society archivist Jim Talbert in the 1990’s and historian Dr. H.B. Graybill in the 1930’s. Using this previous work as a foundation, I began to dive into the history of the parade.
One of the earliest mentions of the Shanghai Parade in newspapers is found in an 1896 article from the Greenbrier Independent. It is evident that the Shanghai Parade was already in existence for several years by 1896, as the article describes it as “the annual parade.” This timeframe is further backed up by interviews with community members taken during the 1930’s. One such interview was conducted with local historian, Marcellus Zimmerman, shortly before his death in 1937. In the interview, Zimmerman says that he remembers the parade happening “his whole life.” Other community members interviewed during the 1930’s by Dr. Graybill agreed that the parade was in existence for most of their lives. These interviews, combined with early newspaper mentions, suggest that the parade began in the mid to late 19th century. Despite the longevity of the parade, it has not operated every year. The parade has paused for bad weather, war, and even lack of interest. One of the longest cessations of the parade was the twelve years it was suspended between 1963 and 1976.
The inconsistency of the parade’s operation is due in part to the uncoordinated format of the parade for most of its history. It was not until the mid-20th century that a committee was established to arrange the parade. Even after the creation of the parade committee, the Shanghai Parade lacked the formal arrangement of floats and marching bands. Instead, members of the public would simply gather in costume the day of the parade. This grassroots nature most likely comes from the original form of the parade. In early years, groups would gather and travel from house to house disguised in costumes to welcome the new year. These were known as the “shanghaiers” or chaos causers.
This theory is strengthened by the appearance of Shanghai parades in other areas that would have had similar immigrant populations. The first reference is found in the Staunton Vindicator from 1893 detailing “The two ‘Shanghai’ parades on our streets”. A more modern article from Staunton in 2010 features a picture of a Shanghai Parade in Middlebrook, VA from 1899 in a discussion on local Christmas traditions. A third reference to a Shanghai parade is in The Gastonia Gazette describing the Shanghai Parade in Dallas, NC for the year 1900. Similar traditions can also be seen in the mummers traditions found in Pennsylvania where large, elaborate costumes are used in New Year’s Day parades.
Costumes have always played a central role in the Shanghai antics. Originally, participants wore masks and large, old clothing as costumes in order to conceal the identity of the individuals participating in the escapades. Eventually these traditional costumes transformed into more modern costumes, with characters like Elvis or Little Red Riding Hood. The importance of the costumes has led to the creation of several iconic Shanghai Parade costumes including the New Year’s Baby, or one of my personal favorites, Col. Ford’s “sooper-dooper-pooper-scooper.”
Above: 1995 Shanghai Parade ft. Col. Ford as "sooper-dooper-pooper-scooper"
Although the exact history of Lewisburg’s Shanghai Parade may never be known, it is certainly a unique celebration to welcome in the new year. If you have any stories or images you would like to share of past Shanghai Parade’s, please feel free to contact us at the Greenbrier Historical Society.
By Debra Marquis-Cascio - Museum Associate
Scalawags were white southern Republicans who backed the policies of Reconstruction rather than opposed them. The term scalawag evolved over the mid-1800s first to describe a low valued animal, then a worthless person, and eventually to describe someone viewed as a traitor of the South. Some scalawags were established planters who thought that white men should recognize Black civil and political rights while still remaining in control of political and economic life at large. The majority of scalawags were non-slaveholding small farmers, merchants, and other professionals who had remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War.
At the Greenbrier Historical Society’s North House Museum, we are fortunate to have on display two carpetbags that were used during Reconstruction. Many of today’s youth are not taught about the Carpetbaggers and Scalawags of the Civil War. Historical items such as our carpetbags are able to keep this history alive to young and old visitors alike.
Being a docent here at the museum, I am able to pass these stories along to those who do not know and it is a wonderful feeling to leave at the end of my day knowing that I passed on a part of history that may have been otherwise lost.
Walk through this museum and “listen” to the stories that come alive here. There is something to learn in every room, if you only keep your ears open!
Meet the staff of the North House! We're here at the museum daily giving tours, conquering your research requests, creating historical content for our readers, and SO much more. We took a break to get into the holiday spirit and share some of our favorite holiday tunes, movies, and treats.
Stop by the North House to see our friendly faces! You can take a guided tour of the house, or maybe browse one of our self-led exhibits. While you're here, check out our gift shop for some of your last-minute holiday shopping needs. The North House gift shop carries local artists’ prints, regional history books, local holiday ornaments and more! The museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M.. Save between 15% - 25% on gift shop purchases by becoming a member of GHS.
Have a safe and happy holiday season. Thanks for reading!
In the old days, girls wore bows to attract beaus. Now, packages and windows wear bows to attract customers and it seems to work.
Just why ribbon curled and tied into more-or-less ornate balls of fluff has an effect on sales of everything from neckties to fishing tackle is probably a mystery to the most profound student of human behavior. But the fact seems to be that it does, and such package decoration has become a commercial necessity.
If one candy manufacturer decorates his packages with bows, other manufacturers must follow suit or lose sales. The buying preferences of the feminine customer, a supreme power in retail merchandising, are probably responsible for this fact. It is no secret that milady gets a thrill from a frill.
Whatever the reason, businessmen do not argue with established facts, and they buy bows by the billions, in all colors, shapes, and sizes. They put them on packages containing products generally purchased by or for women. Women also buy the ready-made bows for do-it-yourself wrapping of gifts for Christmas, birthdays, and other special occasions.
As manager of the A. W. Cox department store at the Gateway Shopping Center in St. Albans, E.L. Rabel, Sr., is acutely aware of the omni-presence of decorative bows in the merchandising business. It would be nice, he thought, if he could make a machine which could turn out thousands of bows an hour.
He actually did design such a bow-making machine, which made a type of bow called the “pom-pom,” but which required human hands in the final phase of manufacture. In recent years, however, the “pom-poms” have been fading in popularity, and Rabel yearned for a machine which could turn out complete bows rapidly and without human help.
There were machines which did the job, but none quite satisfied Rabel. He had ideas as to how such machines could be improved, but he was neither a machinist nor an inventor. His bow-making machine might have remained in the dream stage had he not read my article in the State Magazine about Alderson inventor Charles David Nash (“Alderson’s Professional Inventor,” Jan. 19, 1964.)
After reading the article, Rabel telephoned Nash and discussed his bow-making idea. Later, Nash visited Rabel in St. Albans.
“Look,” said the latter, I’ve been in the department-store business for a lot of years. The market for these bows has a tremendous potential. Further-more, because of my long experience, I have some valuable business connections. Do you think you could make such a machine?”
Charles David Nash said he could try. Back in his Alderson machine shop, he went to work. In six weeks he had a machine that would make bows.
“It wasn’t a very good machine at first,” Nash told me in a recent interview, “but it would make bows, and we ran it for about six months, making improvements. We still have it, and that’s it outside in our booth.”
Nash and Rabel had a booth at the recent West Virginia State Fair at Lewisburg, with a machine busily making bows, looking, as Nash put it, “like a mechanical goose.”
Three other machines followed the pilot model, and all are now operating in Nash’s shop at Alderson. All but the pilot model are “staple” machines. That is, in addition to making bows of various sizes and types, they also automatically staple adhesive-backed platforms to the bases of the bows, so they may be stuck on any surface without muss or fuss.
The pilot model is a “pin” type, which simply pins the bow at the base so that it retains its shape, the customer supplying his own adhesive or other method of attachment. With an accessory mechanism, however, this early machine converts to the “staple” type.
The bow-making operation has now become the most important part of Charles David Nash’s Alderson business. Incorporated as Ready Made Bows, Inc., with E.L. Rabel, Sr. as president and Nash as vice-president, the firm will put out a minimum of two million bows this year, which, at an average price of $25 a thousand, represents a $50,000 gross.
And this is only the beginning. The A.W. Cox chain of department stores, not surprisingly, became Ready Made Bows’ first customer. The Diamond department store is also a bow purchaser, as is the Leggett-Belk chain in the South. The largest single client today is the Gibson Greeting Card Co. of Cincinnati, which has just placed a large Christmas order for packaged bows to be sold in association with their cards.
Nash’s machine is not the first of its kind by any means.
“But,” says the West Point engineering graduate, “our machine produces more than twice as fast as any other. It takes only one person to supervise two operating machines. The pin machine makes about 1,300 bows an hour, and the staple type, with the adhesive, about 800.”
Rabel, looking out for the sales end of the product of Nash’s inventive mind, is optimistic about the future.
“So far,” the department store manager said, “our sales outlets are local and regional. But we expect to get clients on a nation-wide basis, and this can mean big business.”
If it works out it will mean the first big financial break for Charles David Nash, the jolly Alderson inventor. But he is not putting all his eggs in one bow-covered basket. His latest invention is a contrivance which keeps fresh water in a basin at all times, and is at the same time removable and easy to keep clean.
“It will be used,” Nash said, “in dog runs or kennels. Save a lot of work.”
So Nash easily turns his attention from bows to Bowser. Even if his business goes to the dogs, he’ll still be making money.
Welcome to Our Blog!
An Introduction to Greenbrier Valley History Unraveled
Welcome to the first blog post of Greenbrier Valley History Unraveled! We are excited to start sharing some of the amazing, diverse, and unusual history of the Greenbrier Valley with you. We will be posting bi-weekly stories by members of our staff, volunteers, and hopefully some of you!
How You Can Help
Become a History-Maker
History is not just tales from hundreds of years ago, history happens every single day starting with people just like you. At the Greenbrier Historical Society, the history of every family is important and we’d love to hear about yours. Tell us about the characters in your family story. Share with us the details of your family’s homeplace, burial ground, or livelihood. If possible, please include pictures that can be shared with our readers. Not doing research on your family, but a topic related to Greenbrier Valley History? We would love to learn more about that too! Please send us your stories to publish in this blog.
Personal entries should be:
Not a writer but still want to help?
Snap a Picture
They say a picture is worth a thousand words! Send in your family photos to be shared with our readers. Please include a brief description including names and dates of those photographed.
We appreciate your help and can’t wait to read your stories!
Who We Are
At the Greenbrier Historical Society (GHS), we pride ourselves on telling an inclusive and diverse narrative of our beloved Greenbrier Valley. Founded in 1963, GHS has spent the last 57 years serving the West Virginia counties of Greenbrier, Monroe, Summers, and Pocahontas. The Greenbrier Historical Society owns and manages three regional properties; the North House, used as our headquarters and offices, the Barracks, used to house our First Settler Escape Room experience, and the Blue Sulphur Springs Pavilion which is currently undergoing structural renovations.