Over-the-top Easter parade keeps our neighborhood weird

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Liz Simmons: Photo by Andrew Williams

A decade ago, ads for a neighborhood Easter parade appeared in East Dallas storefronts: a bizarre image of the Last Supper, the long table lined with folks not in long robes and beards but in bunny costumes.

This set the tone for the Newellian Easter Parade, now in its 10th year, or as organizers proclaim, “The Very Tenth Ever!”

Captain of the Quirky Ship and lead organizer is Liz Simmons, longtime resident of Newell Avenue in the Hollywood/Santa Monica neighborhood. She serves as social director of the neighborhood association, but stresses that the parade is strictly “sponsored by and brought to you by” the Newellian Bunny Board.

Well known for her over-the-top lawn decorations at Halloween and Christmas, Simmons and crew orchestrate the often weird but still family-friendly spectacle every Easter. Sure, you’ll see kids on bedecked bikes and babies in red Radio Flyer wagons, but at past parades, spectators also gawked at a “The Nightmare Before Easter” float, pulled by zombie bunnies and covered with spiders and various taxidermy. Atop the float sat a creepy black-and-white striped bunny tossing rubber snakes and roaches to the crowd.

Pressed for details about this year’s parade, Simmons is mum.  She will, however, release the identity of the grand marshal: the one and only Kinky Friedman. The singer-songwriter, novelist, humorist and erstwhile candidate for governor of Texas returns for his second stint, having ably served last year. And while he is honored to lead the procession, he feels such a role requires courage: “It’s not exactly a smart idea for a grand marshal to ride in an open car in Dallas.”

Then there was the big-as-a-house Peep, the Candy Catapult and the Viking ship, featuring The Pillage People.  A camping-themed float was accompanied by folks in mosquito costumes, tormenting the spectators, of course. Elvis sang, a Roller Derby team waved to the crowd, and Santa made an appearance, naturally, for what is an Easter parade without jolly Saint Nick? And just where did they find dozens of three-legged dogs to strut happily down the street? How about snakes? Simmons sees nothing incongruous about big snakes in an Easter parade. “It has always been a dream of mine to have a parade of snakes, especially a 20-foot Burmese being carried by four or five people in bunny or chicken suits. I don’t know why, it just makes me happy,” she says.

Pressed for details about this year’s parade, Simmons is mum.  She will, however, release the identity of the grand marshal: the one and only Kinky Friedman. The singer-songwriter, novelist, humorist and erstwhile candidate for governor of Texas returns for his second stint, having ably served last year. And while he is honored to lead the procession, he feels such a role requires courage: “It’s not exactly a smart idea for a grand marshal to ride in an open car in Dallas.”

Friedman reflects that the position is a “great responsibility,” requiring a certain skill set: “You have to be somewhat interpersonally gifted, be willing to be swarmed by people, and you can’t be in an irritable temperament. You wouldn’t want, say, Larry McMurtry as grand marshal.”

Down in the Hill Country at his Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch, Friedman ponders what he’ll wear. “Probably High Rodeo Drag,” he muses. And he’s been perfecting his wave to the crowd: “It’s something between a papal wave and Hitler’s goose-stepping salute.” Oh, Kinky.

Unfiltered and politically incorrect comments notwithstanding, the parade truly reflects the small-town yet creative vibe that East Dallas is known for. Neighbors Rudy Lopez and Rosalyn Pate-Reed, longtime parade helpers, agree that the event inspires children and adults alike. Lopez’s first role was one he concocted with his kids: the “Bunny Pooper Scooper Patrol.” Pate-Reed, who has built floats, photographed the parade, and marched as a bunny and a gnome, is an unabashed fan: “I love the ‘come as you are, but don’t forget to let your freak flag fly’ mindset. It really is the melting pot of creativity.”

Friedman sees the parade as an “interesting spectacle filled with creative types, but the real show is the people watching the parade.” Neighbor and parade helper Carrie Funderburk seconds that motion: “You’re in the parade, then suddenly you find yourself looking over a sea of people, and you begin to see their moments happening right in front of you — dancing in the street, people laughing, neighbors hugging. Those moments stick with me.”

The Newellian Easter Parade  is at 3 p.m. April 5. It proceeds down Newell, beginning at Lindsley and ending at Santa Fe.

Liz Simmons: Photo by Andrew Williams
Liz Simmons: Photo by Andrew Williams

 


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