A Holiday Parade to Remember

By: John Sherrer, Director of Cultural Resources

Carillon Parade

With the holiday season picking up pace, it seems a natural thing this time of year to recall people, places, and (in this case) parades that have shaped our memory of Holidays past.

Much has been written about Main Street over the years—this corridor has hosted citizens who worked, lived, shopped, eaten, protested and celebrated here. Few things rival a parade for public celebrations, and it is in that vein that we find ourselves peering into Cold War-era Carillon Parade that merged good tidings with broader themes of international concern.

Carollon Parade
Image courtesy of Columbia Fire Department collection, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia

The cameraman catches the action at the intersection of Main and Hampton streets. Packed tightly together, onlookers crowd the sidewalks as they hustle to view the annual parade. Some shield themselves with umbrellas from the heavy rain that began shortly after noon. Others wear shawls and caps to stay dry. A few, resigned to getting soaked, forego any cover at all.

With its scene of the Wise Men trekking toward Jerusalem to honor Jesus, Belk’s Department Store commands centerstage, competing only with what can only be described as a float of the future—a 15-foot rocket that, as The State newspaper reported, would “carry Christmas greetings from Earth to Outer Space.”

A youngster, nestled within this Buck Rogers-meets-Santa satellite, would occasionally reach great heights—32 feet in fact—thanks to the forklift on which the rocket rested and the aid of two handlers dressed as spacemen. The fanciful float, sponsored by Lukas Equipment Company, captured the imagination of those enthralled by the prospects of what exploring space could offer the United States. Russia launched Sputnik only two months earlier, so the attention of the world had turned to the sky.

Lukas Equipment Co’s rocket wasn’t the only one in the parade of 117 floats—one by Mehlman’s Sight & Sound Center called Sputnik II that carried a live dog and another captained by the Army Reserve resembled a ballistic missile emblazoned with the slogan “Peace for All People!”

Through the rain, nearly 100,000 people gathered to watch the annual Carillon Parade on Friday, November 29, 1957. Each one was met with a memory-making spectacle filled with music, soldiers, beauty queens, floats and a visit from Santa Claus just in the nick of time for the holidays.

This year's Carillon Parade will take place on Saturday, Dec. 1 on Sumter Street. Come out and celebrate a true Columbian holiday tradition.