If there’s anything that offers Chicago families a slice of small-town America in our big city, it’s the annual WOOGMS parades that take place each year in Lakeview on Memorial Day and Labor Day. WOOGMS stands for Wellington Oakdale Old Glory Marching Society, a group formed 48 years ago by late Chicago public-relations executive Al Weisman with the sole purpose of holding these two parades. Weisman, a longtime neighborhood resident, was concerned the meaning of the holidays (which honor fallen military servicepeople and the working class, respectively) was being lost on younger generations.
In 1963, the parade consisted of Weisman, his son, Tony, and a few friends marching around his block waving an American flag. These days, the parade typically attracts about 1,000 people, many second-and third-generation attendees.
Since Al’s death in 1974, Tony and his own sons act as grand marshals. The event still begins on the steps of the home where Weisman lived, near the corner of Pine Grove and Wellington Streets. An inclusive “everyone marches, nobody watches” philosophy is embraced by neighborhood families, who wave small American flags (sold for 50 cents by the society) and join the short march to the beat of the Jesse White Drum Corps. They travel east to Sheridan Road, then over to Lake Shore Drive, where the route ends in front of St. Joseph’s Hospital. The festivities wrap up with volunteers doling out packs of Chuckles candies to kids and a performance by the Jesse White tumblers that usually includes a headstand by White himself.
“The fundamental idea my dad had is timeless—that kids would rather be in a parade than watch it march by,” says Tony. “For a few minutes, to see this ragtag group amble past the big buildings while the police stop traffic, it’s sheer joy.”
The WOOGMS Labor Day Parade kicks off at 11am on September 5.