McCabe adds voice to Return Day

DOVER — The “voice” of Return Day will be Russ McCabe.

He’s a good fit to serve as the parade’s annnouncer. He has lived and loved Delaware history all his life and stories seem to just flow from him.

Mr. McCabe grew up in Georgetown and spent many a November day on the Circle observing Return Day — Sussex County’s unique post-Election Day tradition that dates back more than 200 years.

It is the only place in the nation with a parade in which opposing candidates ride together and there is a ceremonial burying of the hatchet.

This year’s parade starts at 1:30 p.m., followed by the town crier’s reading of results and the hatchet burying.

The day’s events begin at 8:30 a.m.

“Since day one, Return Day was recognized, at least for its intent, for being a healing event — an opportunity to put the campaign behind,” said Mr. McCabe. “It is a truly unique American tradition.”

The retired Delaware Public Archives director, who now lives in Milton, was born a few months before his first Return Day.

Back in the 1970s, he even made eight-hour trips back from college in Virginia and his friends wondered why in the world anyone would do so. “They would say, ‘What is this now? What is it called?’

“I would say I’d be very surprised if I ever missed one since I was an infant,” he said.

Russ McCabe

Russ McCabe

A few nights ago, he was giving a Return Day presentation to some folks in Georgetown when the topic of the current presidential campaign came up.

“I told them, “You think things are partisan and rough now? 160 years ago it was often bare knuckles,” said Mr. McCabe.

Mr. McCabe and Terry Johnson did the presenting at the event.
Mr. Johnson sported the coat and top hat that he wears while driving carriages in the Return Day parade, something he’s done for ages.

“I always dress in my 19th century just-out-of-the-Burnt-Swamp attire, complete with my boots to the knee and my muzzleloader,” said Mr. McCabe. “I have a little fun with it. I brought a jug along with me and on my way there I stopped at a cut cornfield and grabbed a corn cob to stick in the top.”

The gathering watched a Return Day feature that was part of a 1976 PBS show called “Portrait of America.”

The late Nutter Marvel, whose carriage collection is still featured in the parade, was one of the people in the segment.

Said Mr. McCabe, “He talked about in the early days of the automobile and how Dr. Robinson said to Nutter’s father, ‘Charlie, what was that thing that has no critter and no shaft?’”

For Mr. McCabe, his most memorable was the 1976 Return Day. He cherishes a Delaware State News photo he found in the Delaware Public Archives that shows he (then 20 years old) and friends perched on a Main Street rooftop watching the parade. The image features a young Joe Biden, with his sons, looking up and waving at them.

About 50,000 people attended that bicentennial Return Day.

Mr. McCabe joked that he was a little “iffy” on his announcing role.

“I think one of the reasons that got me is if another horse dies and holds things up — which happened many years ago — that they know I can fill it … well in 1833… ,” joked Mr. McCabe. “I remember when it happened and the standard joke was that they needed more meat for the barbecue.”

No, it wasn’t cooked alongside the ox, so don’t worry about that.

There has been a unique selection of foods through the year. In the early years, they served possum.

Mr. McCabe says he always looks forward to the oyster fritters.

Several years ago, Mr. McCabe got to serve as grand marshal of the parade after his retirement from the Delaware Public Archives.

“It was one of those Return Days where it was pouring rain,” he said. “It came time for us to get in the carriage next to Nutter Marvel’s museum. It was a nice carriage with a roof on top. Being the gentleman that I am, I stepped back to let my wife get on there. I took her hand and she stepped on the running board. Well, the carriage tipped and the water that had accumulated on that soft top went right down her back.”

She made the ride, but called it day.

“There’s a Return Day memory,” he said. “It’s humorous now, but at the time, it wasn’t particularly.”


On Election Day, we’ll have updates throughout the day and evening at

With a close presidential election, we’re anticipating a late night.

We’re interested in seeing how Delaware votes and if it once again sides with the majority of the nation.

The First State has chosen the Democratic Party candidate for the past six elections.

The past two were for the Barack Obama-Joe Biden ticket.

Prior to that, Delaware’s vote went to Democrats Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.

Those years ended Delaware’s bellwether reputation.

From 1952-1996, from Dwight Eisenhower to Bill Clinton, Delaware’s choice was the same as the winner of the White House.

In 1948, Delaware and the Chicago Tribune (remember the headline, “Dewey defeats Truman”) had Republican Thomas Dewey as winner.

The 2000 vote has a bellwether asterisk since Delaware sided with Al Gore, who won the popular vote but not the electoral vote.


Leading up to the election, this editor collected a number of “did you know?” political facts that you might find interesting:

•Delaware’s choice for governor has been a Democrat for the last six elections – Tom Carper, Ruth Ann Minner and Jack Markell.

•Delaware’s presidential choice has been of the same party as its choice for governor in each of the last nine elections. The last to differ was 1976 when Delaware backed Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, for president and Pete du Pont, a Republican for governor.

•It was during World War II that Delaware last had a U.S. Representative who was from “below the canal.” Republican Earle D. Willey, a Dover attorney, served in the office from 1943-1945. Congressman Willey is the only Kent countian to hold the office in past century.

•There were only two Sussex County men to win the office in the past century – William Franklin “Lovebird” Allen from 1937-39 and George S. Williams from 1939-1941.

•Delaware has never had a woman or an African American elected to Congress. Lisa Blunt Rochester could make history on both counts.

•Delaware’s last three congressmen – John Carney (lieutenant governor), Tom Carper (treasurer) and Mike Castle (lieutenant governor, governor) – all had won previous statewide elections. Lisa Blunt Rochester or Hans Reigle will break the streak.

•The last first-time statewide election winner to become a congressman was Tom Evans from 1977-1983.

•Democrats have held the majority in Delaware’s state senate for 44 years. Republicans, currently with nine senators, hope to pick up two more seats and the majority in this election.

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