Parade floats find a home in Va. hall of fame

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SHENANDOAH CAVERNS, Va. -- Ever wonder what happens to those huge floats used in presidential inaugural parades?

You can see a handful of them at American Celebration on Parade, an attraction that opened in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley last July.

The Wyoming float honoring Vice President Richard Cheney is here. So is the theme float used in this year's parade, the 135-foot-long American Eagle, which had Wayne Newton and Bo Derek on board.

Hargrove Inc., producer of inaugural floats since Harry Truman's parade in 1949, opened the attraction in a 40,000-square-foot hangar-like building.

Billed as the Parade Float Hall of Fame, it features 20 major floats plus props and settings built by Hargrove for inaugural, Rose, Thanksgiving and other parades.

Other inaugural-parade floats depict a 60-foot-long American flag, a colonial soldier, a saxophone-playing band of pelicans and a 100-foot train.

"The floats are popular with kids," said Marvin Bond, Hargrove's marketing manager, who added, "We'll have floats coming and going so we'll always have something new."

According to Bond, the floats cost from $20,000 to $200,000 and are sometimes recycled and used again.

The American Eagle, for example, has been used in earlier inaugural parades; a 1900-era trolley on display will be used in several parades this year.

The Rose Parade, he said, allows floats to be used only once.

Displays include a 50-foot-high Statue of Liberty that appeared in last year's Rose Parade and a Polar Bear float that won Rose Parade honors.

Lanham, Md.-based Hargrove is a custom-exhibition and trade show production company owned by Earl C. Hargrove Jr., who also owns Shenandoah Caverns, an attraction on an adjoining site acquired in 1966.

Visitors take one-hour guided tours of the limestone cavern's 17 chambers. They cover one mile and have been open to the public since 1922.

Bond said Hargrove had wanted a second attraction for 30 years and began serious planning five years ago.

Before American Celebration on Parade opened, Shenandoah Caverns had 60,000 visitors a year. That number is growing, Bond said, with tickets providing admission to both attractions.

Admission is $17.50 for adults and $7 for those ages 6 through 14. Discounts are available for students and senior citizens.

Bond said motorcoach tour bookings are up more than 50% from a year ago, with almost all taking in both attractions.

At American Celebration on Parade, visitors can take both guided and self-guided tours.

Also used for special events, the attraction has been the venue for wedding receptions and events for such organizations as the Shenandoah Music Festival and the Shenandoah Valley Travel Association.

American Celebration on Parade is at Caverns Road, three miles from New Market (exit 269 off Interstate Highway 81). It is open daily at 9 a.m.

The attraction's new Web site, found at www.americancelebrationonparade.com, features a link to the caverns' site.

For further information, call (888) 4-CAVERNS.

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