CHELMSFORD -- Even after 12 years on the Parade Committee, Lynn Marcella can't quite put her finger on what makes Chelmsford's July Fourth parade draw so many people year after year.
"It's almost magic," the co-chairwoman said.
Chelmsford had parades earlier than 1967, but they were put on hold for several years during wartime, Marcella said. Now in its 50th consecutive year, Chelmsford's parade holds its place as Greater Lowell's marquee Independence Day event.
What has given Chelmsford's parade such staying power?
"Just look around," said Navy veteran Dave Laferriere, of Lowell, who had marched with the Merrimack Valley Vietnam Veterans in previous years.
At 10 a.m.
Denise Casper, of Chelmsford, said she loves seeing all of the people thanking veterans like Laferriere for their service to the country.
Each time a veterans' group marched or rode past, parade-goers rose from their seats and clapped.
Tiffany Bilodeau, who turned 38 Tuesday, loves sharing a birthday with her country. She grew up going to the parade and continues to come every year.
"As long as I can remember, I've been coming here," Bilodeau said.
Dan and Megan Curran both grew up in town and came back to raise their family in Chelmsford. They said they've been coming to the parade for about 30 years, and it was important to them to carry on the custom with their three children.
"I think it's a really great tradition," Megan Curran said. "I was telling them earlier today how lucky we are to live in a town that offers this. I have great memories growing up as a child coming here and I want them to have the same thing."
Ty Curran, 12, said his favorite part of the day is the road race. His younger sisters, Kaley, 7, and Mackey, 3, enjoy seeing different children's characters and getting toys and other goodies.
Dan Curran said there are other parades around, but Chelmsford's always draws them back.
It speaks volumes about the community, its level of volunteerism and the passion residents have for the town, Megan Curran said.
There's a lot of work that happens behind the scenes of the parade. Most people don't think about July 4 until just before the holiday, but for the Parade Committee, it's a yearlong labor of love to pull off such a large-scale event.
The day after one parade ends, they're already starting to plan and book acts for the next year, Co-Chairman Jeff Hardy said.
They even give other towns lessons on how to run parades, Marcella said, pausing for a moment to speak with two women from Lexington looking for pointers.
The Chelmsford Elks, who ran the parade for several years before the Parade Committee, served as its marshals.
Reminders of the historical significance of the day were never far from view. Minutemen groups from Chelmsford, Lexington and Acton wore their Revolutionary War-era dress and fired their guns, punctuating the more light-hearted moments brought by groups like the Clowning for Kidz Foundation and the mini-train carrying members of the Chelmsford Catholic Collaborative.
Children delighted in seeing and high-fiving favorite characters like Spider-Man and Captain America, and scrambling for candy thrown from many a float. Boy Scout packs rode in fun Star Wars and tropical-themed floats, ready to soak kids along the parade route with their squirt guns.
A special feature this year was a convertible carrying family members of the late Constable Bill Spence, who was parade announcer for several years until his death in 2015. Sandra Spence sang a verse from one of her father's favorite songs, "Green, Green Grass of Home," her voice wavering on the word "papa" in the lyrics.
Music is a big part of the parade. Bands of all kinds could be heard: hometown-favorite Chelmsford High School marching band, Chelmsford Community Band, Worcester Kiltie Pipe Band, Stuart Highlanders, Hot Tamale Brass Band, Spartans Drum & Bugle Corps, Spirit of America Fife & Drum Corps and Sons of Italy Drum & Bugle Corps, among others.
While other bands mainly played patriotic fare, Quebec-based Les Ambassadeurs de la Montérégie had fun mixing it up with theme songs from Ghostbusters and Game of Thrones.
Vehicles in the parade varied widely, from Sherman tanks and other large military vehicles to classic cars and antique farm tractors.
There was fire apparatus galore -- Lowell, Tyngsboro, Billerica, Groton, Nashua and Massachusetts Forest Fire Control, with Smokey Bear riding in the back, all joined Chelmsford in the parade. The Chelmsford Fire Department showed off its fleet, from the 1935 antique pumper engine to the sparkling new Engine 2.
Marcella and Hardy said they've greatly enjoyed working with their core Parade Committee team the past 11 years, forging lifelong friendships with people who have become like family.
But the time has come to move on for the two (of three) co-chairs, who decided they would step down from its leadership after the 50th. Marcella's husband, Chuck, will also leave the committee.
"It's time to let some other people have a shot at it, come up with some new ideas," Hardy said.
He and the Marcellas won't stray far, however.
"We want this to continue and we'll back up the new people," Hardy said.
And (drum roll please) the float winners are ...
Red (first): Studio A Dance Company, Alice in Wonderland-themed float
White (second): Cub Scout Pack 45, Star Wars-themed "Padawans of Pack 45" float
Blue (third): Lowell Humane Society, Woodstock/hippie-themed float
Parade Committee's choice: Bob Greenwood's antique farm tractors
Follow Alana Melanson at facebook.com/alana.lowellsun or on Twitter @alanamelanson.