The Shanghai Parade, where past & present get weird

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

Every New Year’s Day at noon, a crowd of several thousand people line the streets of Lewisburg, WV, for the weirdest tradition in America’s Coolest Small Town–the Shanghai Parade.

What is the Shanghai Parade? It’s a free for all. A place where pop culture and rural America collide in a kaleidoscope of weirdness…and it’s wonderful. Everyone who enters the parade is given a $2 bill, the town’s volunteer of the year leads the parade, and a grown man dressed in only a diaper ends the event by scooping all the poop from the street left by four-legged participants.

A local resident walks her chicken through the Shanghai Parade on Jan 1, 2024.

The history of the parade

If you’re wondering what the parade has to do with the city in China, save yourself the trouble. The parade has nothing to do with the populous city in China, Shanghai. Most folks assume it’s some kind of borrowed tradition from East Asia, but there’s no evidence to support that.

According to a deep dive by the Greenbrier Historical Society completed in 2021, the parade began in the 19th century. The local newspaper referenced the Shanghai Parade in 1896 as “the annual parade.” Interviews conducted in the 1930s by a local historian corroborated that account, with residents remembering the parade as far back as the late 1800s.

While it is a longstanding tradition, it has not been in continuous operation since since the 19th century. It experienced a pause from 1963-1976 and did not occur other years due to war, illness, bad weather, or simply lack of interest during some periods of time.

As the Historical Society puts it, “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.”

Therein lies the likely origin of the parade’s name. Not the city in China, but a term frequently used in Scot-Irish and German immigrant communities–“shanghaied”, causing a good-natured “disturbance” by dressing up and visiting neighbors.

This year’s parade

This year’s parade was no less weird than years past, and that’s a compliment of the highest order in Shanghai Parade lore. With temperatures in the low 30s, a large crowd came out to enjoy the tradition. Entries ranged from bike clubs to walking art to kids carrying chickens. Check out a few highlights:

We also put together a short video reel of many parade entrants which you can view below:

See you next year

Now that you know all there is to know about the weirdest parade in America’s coolest small town, make your plans to attend next year. Dr. Mary Ann Mann, who chairs the committee that plans the event, promises another terrific show on January 1, 2025, at high noon.

Gum Store Studios in White Sulphur Springs presented this walking float in support of peace in the Middle East during the 2024 Shanghai Parade. Photo by RealWV.
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