Under new guidelines, Hummers Parade mocks 2019

Hummers Parade organizer Jack Schreppler shakes a protester’s hand during the Hummers Parade in Middletown on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

MIDDLETOWN — After a year in which Middletown officials debated canceling the annual Hummers Parade, participants in the 2020 iteration took several shots at the notion the event itself is offensive.

The parade, an irreverent and relatively informal happening, has for nearly 50 years taken place every Jan. 1, giving residents of Middletown and surrounding areas a chance to reminisce on the year that was. Participants dress up in costumes or outfit their cars to look like floats, a la the more famous Mummers Parade of Philadelphia.

For many, congregating on Middletown’s main streets to laugh at the variety of local and national events referenced by the makeshift floats is a cherished tradition. It’s not uncommon to see observers in costume too, and like Return Day, the booze flows freely for some spectators and participants.

But the future of the event seemed up in the air for much of last year. In fact, as recently as mid-December, it still appeared possible the 2020 celebration would be canceled after 2019’s parade featured a spoof of a migrant child in a cage in reference to the White House’s family separation policy, sparking calls for greater oversight.

A parade participant makes a statement during the Hummers Parade in Middletown on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

More than 200 people attended a town meeting on the parade last January, with some urging Middletown to set restrictions on what is appropriate or even to stop holding it altogether. In the end, Town Council approved new guidelines last month stating the parade is the responsibility of the permit applicant and some floats and costumes may be inappropriate. Exactly what would happen should these rules be violated is unclear.

Opinions on the guidelines are mixed: Some feel they lack teeth, while others see them as unnecessary political correctness.

Spurred on by the 2019 display, a few dozen people protested at a street corner on the parade’s route Wednesday, with several holding signs describing racism as plain wrong.

“In my opinion, we’re a much stronger people when we respect one another,” Scott Saunders, one of the organizers of the protest, said shortly before the parade. “When we want to down one another and make fun of people’s race, ethnicity, their gender, that doesn’t make for a strong nation. So, we’re here to just say, listen, let’s come together.”

Parade protester Yonnell Nolan holds on to an American flag during the Hummers Parade in Middletown on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Others fell more in the middle on the issue: Several attendees decried racism while also expressing a sense many of the complaints were being blown out of proportion.

The caged migrant float did go too far, opined participant Thomas Flannagan, but he doesn’t believe the event is inherently harmful.

“It’s a lot of fun, but really, it’s just so dumb,” the Middletown resident said of the parade. “It’s just so dumb. It’s a good place for everyone to release a bit of pent-up stupid energy.”

Clay Wessell had similar sentiments, saying most objections were “grandstanding.”

A devoted attendee who has been to every iteration of the Hummers Parade since the 1980s, Mr. Wessell believes the parade remains great because of its take-no-prisoners, decentralized approach.

“We are telling everyone that ours may be tasteless, but it’s never racist,” he said of his float, which featured various cardboard signs attached to his truck.

He noted there appeared to be more police officers working the area than usual this year.

Several people taking part in the parade acknowledged the controversy with their displays Wednesday.

One man dressed as Fred Rogers, the late host of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and subject of a recent Tom Hanks film, riding a scooter with a sign proclaiming his costume to be politically correct and inoffensive. Two others mocked people upset by the issue, donning snowflake costumes and baby accessories, while another man emulated a popular meme by urging people to change his mind about the inoffensive nature of the convoy.

As always, there were topical references: four separate “Delabears” in honor of the ursine that captured the hearts of many Delawareans late last year, the “Ukrainian Navy” (actually a small boat pulled by an SUV),  convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and a float with both Oscar the Grouch and teenaged Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, whom President Donald Trump last month said has an “anger management problem.”