Part IV: Off the Beaten Path

For as long as I can remember parades have held a special place in my heart. Growing up in a military family, I was towed to parades even as an infant and very much enjoyed the events as a child. My favorite part of a parade was watching the soldiers--and Halloween, Memorial Day and Fourth of July parades were always a big hit in our family.

Even though my fellow classmates (we had all just graduated the police academy) were less than excited about being assigned to work in the cold at our community’s annual Christmas parade, I actually relished the opportunity. Watching all of the enthusiastic children and their parents respond excitedly as the various floats and characters passed by along the route reminded me of the wonderful times spent at similar events during my childhood.

So, have you ever just wanted to go to a parade but it was not a holiday? Where can you find a good low-cost parade during the summer?

Well, since I said low-cost that eliminates the Disney parks’ daily parades. What if I said that maybe the best parades that one will see are held twice a week between May and August in Washington DC and charge no admission?

Yes, for free admission, parade fans can attend the US Marine Corps’ Evening Parade (held on Fridays) and/or the Sunset Parade (held on Tuesdays) during the summer.

The Sunset Parade is held at Arlington National Cemetery in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial. It includes a one hour performance by the United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps and precision drill by the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon. No reservations are required, and the public is welcome to bring a lawn chair and enjoy the parade.

Offered at the 8th and I Streets facility, the Evening Parade features the US Marine Marching Band, the US Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, the Marine Corps Color Guard, and the Marine Corps Silent Drill Team, among other participants. The show lasts one hour and fifteen minutes and includes music performance and lots of marching.

A little more on the history of the Evening parade at Marine Barracks known as "8th and Eye" to folks familiar with the service:

The "Oldest Post of the Corps," was established in 1801, and has performed military reviews and ceremonies since its founding. The present-day Evening Parade was first conducted on July 5, 1957.

The presidential inaugurations and specific occasions prompted the parades and ceremonies conducted at the Barracks during the early 1900s. The traditional reveille and morning muster parades were conducted with varying frequency at the post, and they eventually resulted in more formalized ceremonies. In 1934, when MajGen. John H. Russell, Jr. was the 16th Commandant of the Marine Corps, the Barracks initiated its first season of regularly scheduled weekly parades.

The parades were conducted in the late afternoon, usually on Mondays or Thursdays and varied from 4 to 5:30 p.m. The parades were commonly referred to as "Sunset Parades." The ceremonies were conducted from April to November, concluding the week of the Marine Corps Birthday, November 10.

…Using the resplendent setting of the Barracks, wistful imagination and the Marines' flare for showmanship, the parades were to be a showcase for the ceremonial prowess of Marines and the musical eminence of the U.S. Marine Band, which had achieved international renown under the premier military band leader of all time, John Philip Sousa.

In planning the parade sequence and format, Colonel Leonard F. Chapman Jr., the future 24th Commandant of the Marine Corps, insisted that the parade adhere to strict regulations. The parade drill would be without fancy theatrics, which frequently characterized drill routines of that period. Since its inception, the Evening Parade has become a unique patriotic tradition of the "Oldest Post of the Corps".

The parade's heritage is entwined with former military rituals such as tattoo, retreat, and lowering of the colors ceremonies. The Evening Parade is offered solely to express the dignity and pride that represents more than two centuries of heritage for all Americans.
Eighth and Eye is home to the Commandant's House--the official residence of all but the first two Commandants who have headed the Marine Corps during its long history. This house has quite a rich history, and is considered to be the oldest public building in continuous use in the Nation's Capital.

The Commandant’s House was spared during the British attack on Washington in 1814--one of the few structure that did not meet the torch. The predominant theory (maybe because it makes the military look good) is that the stand of the Marines during the fighting at Bladensburg so impressed British General Robert Ross that he ordered the House and Barracks left untouched as a gesture of soldierly respect.

Of course no old building can be labeled fascinating without a ghost and/or treasure story connected to its history, and the tales of the Commandant’s House do not disappoint. Here is the legend of the buried treasure on the grounds at 8th and Eye:

In August 1814, as the British Army approached Washington, two sergeants of the detachment at Marine Headquarters (then located at the Marine Barracks) were, so the story goes, charged with the safety of a chest containing a considerable amount of Marine Corps funds. The Marines were supposed to have buried the chest on the grounds of the barracks or to have hidden it within the walls of the Commandant's House.

They then rejoined their comrades on the battlefield of Bladensburg where they were killed in the fighting, taking the secret of the money's location with them to the grave.

In another version of this story, the two NCO's were killed in a rugged floor-to-floor defense of the Commandant's House when the British invaders reached Washington. Treasure seekers still eye the walled barracks and hoary house with longing, for the money has never been found and may still be, as legend has it, waiting for the persistent hunter.
So, if you are in the Washington DC area during the summer, it is well worth your time to see the Sunset or Evening Parade. I witnessed both events as a child and am looking forward to taking our family someday so that they will be able to cherish the memories of time spent at a great parade.

Previous tour stops in this Off the Beaten Path Series are Lynchburg, TN, Centralia, PA, and Murfreesboro, AR.