, Newburyport, MA

April 17, 2014

Topping off Easter

Locals hope to start tradition with Newburyport hat parade

By Ann Reily
Features Editor

---- — This Easter, donning your Sunday best could earn you a prize.

A group of local women is hoping to bring a New York City tradition to Newburyport’s Inn Street with the first Easter Hat Parade.

Stretching back to the 1870s, the annual Easter Parade and Easter Bonnet Festival in New York now draws thousands of participants from around the world to Fifth Avenue to show off hats ranging from simple to outrageous.

Robin Lawson, co-chairwoman of the Newburyport parade, attended the New York event last year with her husband, Lynn Kettleson. The Newbury couple had a great time and thought that Newburyport would be a great place to start a similar tradition.

“This was the most fun, colorful, creative event you could imagine,” Lawson said, recalling hats that ranged from depictions of the New York City skyline to one covered with marshmallow Peeps candy to landmark replicas made entirely from MetroCards.

Lawson recruited friend Pat Skibbee of West Newbury to co-chair the event with her, and they put together a committee with Newburyport residents Cynthia Quinn and Sharon Currier and Ann Simpson of Amesbury.

“It’s such a perfect event for Newburyport,” Lawson said. “It’s just silly and fun.”

“This is a way that people can physically come out and gather together and celebrate spring,” Skibbee said. “It’s a celebration of Easter. Everyone is invited and welcome.”

Although it is called a parade, the event is more of a gathering, with participants invited to show off their hats and mingle among the crowd. There is no marching involved, something that confused Lawson at first when she was in New York City.

She remembers turning to Kettleson and asking him, “Where’s the parade?”

“He said, ‘Dear, you are the parade,’” she said with a laugh.

Sunday’s parade will start at 11:30 a.m., with judging from 12:30 to 1 p.m. Prizes, including tickets to The Screening Room and gift cards from the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce, will be awarded in five categories: most elegant bonnet, best kids’ design, most dapper hat, “FUNniest” hat and best Newburyport-themed hat.

Judges include Esther Sayer of the Inn Street Barbershop, Jay Williamson of the Historical Society of Old Newbury and Currier, who is an interior designer.

Simpson hopes that people will be inspired by the city’s architecture, history and landmarks, suggesting that toppers could re-create the Custom House Maritime Museum, Bartlet Mall, Atkinson Common, the Chain Bridge or even a clipper ship.

“There’s a lot you could manage to put on your head,” she said. “It’s like Halloween.”

“Our ideal vision is people making hats,” Skibbee said.

However, any type of headgear is welcome. Lawson and Simpson recruited local florists to help decorate their store-bought straw hats, while Currier and Quinn have been crafting fancy caps out of brown paper bags, ribbons and decorations.

“Nobody wears hats anymore,” Quinn said. “Hats have kind of evolved out of style.”

But “it’s not really so much about the hat,” she said, as it is about the fun of making them with family and friends.

Anyone not interested in donning a hat is still welcome to attend the parade and celebrate spring, Lawson said.

“Just come and watch if you want to,” she said.

The parade will be held rain or shine, but the weather looks like it will cooperate despite the surprise snow that coated the ground yesterday. Sunday is expected to mark a return to more springlike weather, with mostly sunny skies and highs in the mid-50s.

If you go

What: Newburyport Easter Hat Parade

When: Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Where: Inn Street

How much: Free

More information: 978-502-4782 or

A simple hat

Start with a grocery-sized paper bag.

Turn it inside out, and begin rolling it up from the open end.

Crimp it, shape it, and add ribbons and decorations with a glue gun.