EVERGLADES CITY — Everglades City can be a little sleepy in the summertime. The one-time county seat, now relegated to a tiny fishing village surrounded by the Everglades National Park, woke from its slumbers and got a jump on the rest of the country Saturday, beating them to the punch with their Independence Day celebrations.
The festivities have a distinct small town flavor, with little of the glitz seen in larger metropolitan blowouts. This is a celebration of the natives, by the natives and for the natives.
Mayor Sammy Hamilton, Jr. presided at the opening ceremonies in front of the historic City Hall, formerly the county courthouse, then headed over to hop in a convertible and ride back in the parade. The Collier County Sheriff’s Office color guard did the same after the ceremonial flag raising, except they had to march, leading the parade.
City Hall itself was a focus of the event, with a plaque unveiled by Hamilton. The plaque, placed by the Everglades Society for Historic Preservation, notes the building, completed in 1928, was damaged by Hurricane Wilma in 2005, “and completely restored by Mayor Sammy Hamilton, Jr.” Over the next year, said Historic Society president Marya Repko, additional plaques will be placed in front of the town’s historic buildings.
The cannoneers of Gamble’s Light Artillery, tending their Civil War-era field piece, did not march with the parade. After firing off a deafening blast to open the proceedings, they waited until parade’s end to startle everyone again with a second detonation.
“We were parking when the cannon went off, and we thought someone had run into the back of the truck,” said School Board member Roy Terry, in town for the celebration. With their long beards and weatherbeaten appearance, the artillerymen looked every inch the Civil War soldiers they play as re-enactors, but next day, said Tom Fyock, they would be pirates up in Fort Myers Beach, firing off the gun as part of Pirate Festival, complete with eye patches and pirate bandannas.
“Any chance we get to burn powder and drink beer, we’re there,” said Fyock.
The parade was over in a matter of minutes, even with the multiple entries from the S.O. and the Jeepsters and Flintsones from the Shriners, coming down from as far away as Fort Myers. After the parade, everyone trooped over to McLeod Park for a community get-together with awards, a bake sale by the Chokoloskee youth group, and a water slide and face painting for the kids. In addition to parade floats, awards were presented for “Little Miss Firecracker” contestants, decked out in patriotic finery.
That evening, the town gathered again for fireworks, on which they got a great bargain by not holding the display on the actual Fourth. Hamilton said the town’s fireworks are “better than anywhere this side of Disney.”