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July 4 in Ely: A parade like no other

It really doesn’t matter if one has spent every Fourth of July in Ely or if somebody is taking it in for the first time.

The first-timers will soon find out what we already know: that the Fourth of July in Ely is a Fourth of July done right.

The morning events serve as a warm-up, the festivities at Whiteside Park combine family fun with seeing old friends and the fireworks always add an exclamation point to the day.

But the focal point of the day, and really what an Ely Fourth is all about, is the afternoon parade.

The sidewalks will fill up with hundreds of chairs in the hours before, and by 1 p.m. Tuesday thousands will line our streets for one of the best parades northeastern Minnesota has to offer.

There are solemn moments when the Honor Guard passes by and patriotism swells when the massive truck comes by with those who have served our country.

Politics are always part of the event, whether the parade brings candidates seeking county, state or federal office or the dueling sides in the ongoing copper-nickel mining debate.

But solemnity and politics are ultimately overshadowed by the celebratory nature of the day, and of the parade.

There are kids on bikes, trikes and scooters, Girl Scouts and youth hockey players, dance troupes and scouts, and a few mischievous sorts offering to “cool off” parade-goers with some squirts of water.

Who doesn’t enjoy the Ely Klown Band with its festive routine?

While declining enrollments and school consolidations and other summer obligations are all partly why high school bands around here aren’t what they once were, the Klown Band has ensured that music remains a memorable part of the Ely parade.

Logging trucks, fire trucks and businesses also all have their place in the parade, and for many years now, Zup’s Food Market has made Ely’s July 4 parade one of its calling card.

Store manager Jimmy Zupancich puts on his clown suit and is joined by a Zup’s army, handing out candy, chips and more by the boxload.

It’s become a popular guessing game to try and come up with what unique item Zup’s will hand out each July 4.   We think they’ll still have a tough time topping 2020, when months after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Jimmy and the Zup’s gang were tossing rolls of toilet paper to the crowds on Sheridan.

There are no doubt bigger and longer parades elsewhere on July 4, but we’ll stack up ours against anyone’s.

The crowds seem to agree as it’s one event that seemingly mixes all of Ely: city and township residents, tourists and summer visitors, kids and senior citizens, newcomers as well as native Elyites who return home each year for the Fourth.

The festivities kick off today with Rock the Park and continue through the weekend leading up to Tuesday’s grand finale.

Sit back, relax and enjoy the Fourth.  There’s no place better than Ely to celebrate our nation’s independence.

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