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Parading America For 50 Years In A Remote Northwest Wheat Field

The Fourth of July is just around the corner. And in the tiny wheat-farming town of Johnson, Washington, they’re getting ready for the 50th year of what some call “America’s Craziest Parade.”

Every summer, around 4,000 people from across the country flock to Johnson. Population 50.

The crop duster tips his wings at 10 a.m. over a stretch of road with a school house on one end and a grain elevator on the other. And the parade begins.

‘Why don’t you have a parade?’

Chris Lynch started the parade with her sisters and one brother on the Fourth of July 50 years ago. She was grown -- 18 years old -- but still, she said they were all whining at their mother over breakfast.

“‘There’s nothing to do!’ And mother said, ‘Why don’t you have a parade? You could dress up as the Spirit of ’76,’“ Lynch recalled. “So that was a good plan because there was no other options on the table.”

By 8 a.m., Chris had found a pair of cymbals. Another sister, made a drum out of an ice cream container. And their other sister played flute in the school band.

“She knew how to play Yankee Doodle,” Chris said. “And Drew carried a flag.”

The siblings made a route to the neighbors at several nearby farms, waking some of them up that morning. By about the third year, a couple of neighbors came with lawn chairs to watch the children march down Johnson Road.

Fifty years of fun

From the start this has been children’s play. And even though they’re now all grown up with grandchildren, they like to keep the mischief and fun. Like the sisters’ “Johnson Security Inspection Station.” All teams must pass it before parading on down the road.

One year they found a giant roll of stickers at Goodwill. They stuck one to each person, car or horse that passed. The stickers said: “slightly imperfect.”

Now the parade stretches about a half a mile down Johnson Road. And the paraders double back around, so everyone claps twice for each act -- from bagpipers -- to kids on their trikes.

Two sides of the founding family always try to one-up each other. They each pick a theme and keep it secret until the last second. Like the Beach Boys vs. a synchronized lawn mowing team. Past parades have paid tribute to family members who’ve died: The women’s mother, and each of their two brothers.

For the 50th year, there’ll be gold everywhere: matching shirts, a painted bus and plenty of bling.

Chris says, come see it if you like. Or …

“You don’t have to come to our parade, there’s still a lot of time to start your own parade,” she said. “All you need is a street and a group of kids and Fourth of July.”

The Johnson parade starts at 10 a.m. sharp on the Fourth of July.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.