An Inside Look at McCarthy’s Famous July 4th Celebration
Mary Beth and I first learned about McCarthy’s 4th of July parade during our 2016 stay at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge over Independence Day, when we met a couple from Anchorage who had come to Kennicott for the celebration. They encouraged us to attend, but we had already made plans to hike Root Glacier. So we decided to return one day and see what the fuss was about.
Six years later, we made it! Here’s what it was like.
We boarded the first free shuttle from Kennicott to McCarthy at 9 a.m. and were excited to see this place we had heard so much about. It was a five-mile trip down the same dusty road we had traveled the day before when we arrived at the McCarthy airport via Wrangell Mountain Air and headed to our accommodations at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge.
We had about 2-½ hours to see McCarthy. There were only a few streets, so it didn’t take us long to see just about everything. We started out at the Wrangell Mountains Center, a nonprofit organization that, according to its Facebook page, “Connect[s] people with wildlands through art, science, and education in Alaska.” They had a nice garden outside and some prints, sketches, and paintings for sale inside.
We wanted to see more. There were 30 or so houses of varying styles, characters, and conditions, as well as a tent city—in other words, a little bit of everything. At the end of the road, past all the houses, was McCarthy Creek. Beautiful!
We walked back through the center of town and ended up at the museum. They had all kinds of old pictures, newspaper clippings, and odds and ends that offered a glimpse into McCarthy’s past. They even had a reading room with books for sale.
While purchasing a book, Mary Beth asked the clerk, Patt, where their church was. Patt pointed us down McCarthy’s road about ½ mile. She said it was a neat church that had a great picture of a laughing Jesus on the wall. Curious to see that, we walked down the road, crossed a footbridge, and could see the steeple above the trees. We walked in and there it was—the picture titled “Jesus Laughing.” And yes, it made us laugh, too!
Once we got back to town, we planted ourselves in the center to watch the parade. The area was bustling with activity, thanks to the restaurant and bar, coffee shop/gift shop, convenience store/bakery, and Ma Johnson’s Hotel, a former boarding house that is now a hotel—and something of a living museum.
Out on the streets, people were setting up the public address system, and a young lady with a violin stepped up to the microphone and started playing the Star Spangled Banner. Hats came off and went across hearts; she made a few mistakes and laughed at herself, but it was fantastic and received well-deserved applause from the crowd that was beginning to form.
While we were waiting for the parade to start, we explored the Mountain Arts shop, a coffee shop and bakery that also sells locally made jewelry and other items. Mary Beth purchased an azurite/malachite necklace made by a local artisan.
As we headed out of the shop, the parade began. The Kennicott/McCarthy volunteer fire department and Alaska Forestry vehicles led the parade, with Smokey the Bear in the back of the forestry pickup truck!
Next came the four antique vehicles we had seen parked in the middle of town when we arrived: one Ford and one LaSalle. I’m not sure what the other two were, but all were beautifully restored and maintained.
Behind the antique cars, on an ATV, was Elishaba Doerksen and her family. She’s the author of Out of the Wilderness, which tells the story of her difficult childhood and her amazing journey to forgiveness.
Next came a pickup truck representing the Long Lake Kids. The boy in the back of the truck was having a blast, spraying the crowd with a water cannon. Those of us with cameras were caught off guard and had to act quickly to protect our gear. Whew!
Then we saw a couple of Park Service rangers and a woman on an ATV with a cute doggie sporting a red-and-blue bandana. But the most impressive entry in the parade came next…a woman in a star-spangled one-piece, on stilts, kicking and spinning around and having the best time! Wow!
Bringing up the rear was people from a local restaurant, The Potato, flying a rainbow flag.
The parade was officially over. Then Daisy—the young lady who helped us out at Mountain Arts—took the stage and started another rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, which turned into a sing-along by the end. Amazing! She finished to much applause.
Then the fun and games began! The first two games were only for kids. First up was the hula hoop contest, which was pretty straightforward…whoever could hula hoop the longest would win! There were a couple of heats, with those winners competing for the hula hoop crown. It was a very heated contest!
The nail-pounding contest came next and involved pounding three long nails into a tree trunk. Younger kids got to use a hammer; older kids had to use rocks, to make it a little more fair. Because there were a lot of participants, there were several heats before the final round.
The next event was a bike race with a twist: Instead of being the first to cross the finish line, the goal was to come in last! The “racetrack” was about 40 yards down a street, and if the riders’ feet touched the ground, they were eliminated. It was a lot fun to watch—and harder than it sounds!
The last event we watched was the tug of war. These matches were great! Kids vs. kids, men and women vs. men and women, adults vs. kids (with a few adults to help out), and finally men vs. women. The competition was very spirited and resulted in a few skinned knees! The kids beat the adults and the men beat the women, though we heard the men had lost the past couple of years.
The shuttle picked up in McCarthy on the ½ hour, and we had other plans for the afternoon, so we left the celebration at 1:30 and missed the 3-legged race, egg toss, and pie-eating competitions. But we were so happy to be in McCarthy for a few hours, celebrating our nation’s independence with a street full of total strangers playing fun games and loving life. Maybe we’ll come back next year!