Lewisburg's Shanghai Parade on New Year's Day predates the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena by a few years. Like many traditions around the country, nobody seems to know for certain when it began exactly or how it got its name.
It is generally agreed the parade got its start in the late 1800's, although one source claims it began as early as 1840, when a minstrel show came to Lewisburg and sang a song about a Shanghai rooster.
Dr. H.B. Graybill, who taught at the Greenbrier College for Women in Lewisburg from 1926 until his death in 1951, attempted to discover the origin of the Shanghai Parade.
In questioning a number of people, he got responses ranging from interesting, to amusing, to outrageous. Among them:
"A missionary or somebody brought it from China".
"It is a custom in Bridgewater, VA, to call some of the antics at Christmas 'Shanghai'".
"Wasn't it started by somebody from Texas who introduced a Mexican custom"?
"I remember when a family of boys named White started it after the Civil War. The Whites came from Virginia".
"It was started in the 1800's by Charlie Handly, Stuart Arbuckle and other country boys riding into town all dressed up for a New Year's holiday".
After years of research, Dr. Graybill came to the conclusion; "Our old Lewisburg Shanghai New Year's custom is probably a combination of both Scotch and German traditions. Similar customs are found in the Scotch-Irish and German sections of Pennsylvania and Virginia, and as far as I can discover, nowhere else. The custom in one form or another came over from the old countries, the Germans commonly using the name "Belsnickle" for masqueraders and "Galashan", and sometimes calling some such boisterous disturbance of the peace a colie-shangle".
The Shanghai Parade has not been held every year since it began. It was not held during World War I. It was dropped again from 1927 to 1933. The last hiatus was a 12-year period from 1964 to 1975. Since then, it has been a yearly event. The parade draws about 2,000 people. Near the front of the parade is the New Year's Baby marching along wearing a diaper and sash. You have to admire that guy.
Following behind the New Year's Baby is an eclectic collection of participants. There are animal drawn floats, antique cars, farm machinery (there is a prize for the best dressed farm implement), high school bands, bagpipers, a fife and drum corps and of course, equestrians. Everyone who walks in the parade is awarded a two-dollar bill.
The Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena has a Grand Marshall. Not to be upstaged, the Shanghai Parade awards an equivalent honor to a prominent citizen of the community. This coveted position is known as the "Super Duper Pooper Scooper". The honoree-person brings up the rear of the parade and is allowed the free use of a shovel and a wheelbarrow. I think the title is self-explanatory, so I won't bore you with the details of the official duties this person must carry out.
If you are in southern West Virginia on January 1st, head for Lewisburg, get a cup of hot coffee and enjoy the parade. Call the Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-833-2068 for details.