It all started in 1938.
Since then, the Edison Festival of Light Grand Parade has grown into an annual tradition that draws thousands to downtown Fort Myers. And they all want to marvel at the elaborate floats and glittering royalty.
The parade returns for its 76th anniversary this Saturday. To mark the occasion, here are some illuminating facts about the parade, the Edison Festival of Light and Thomas Edison.
• The Edison Festival of Light began in February 1938 as a way to honor Fort Myers’ most famous winter resident, Thomas Edison. Back then, it was called the Pageant of Light.
• The Edison Festival of Light Grand Parade is considered to be one of the biggest night parades in the Southeast United States.
• The Edison Festival of Light isn’t the same thing as the Edison Pageant of Light. The Festival of Light is the nonprofit group that organizes the Grand Parade and other events. The private Pageant of Light crowns the Royal Court of Edisonia every year.
• Every year, members of the Pageant of Light and the Fort Myers Woman’s Community Club choose a new king and queen of Edisonia from a group of 12 teens and twenty-somethings. Those new royals appear in the Grand Parade accompanied by princes, princesses, dukes, duchesses and the rest of the royal court.
• The parade’s king and queen wear crowns and scepters purchased from two companies in New Orleans and Mobile, Ala., that specialize in Mardi Gras costumes.
• The Grand Parade became a night parade in 1953 in honor of Edison’s invention of the commercial light bulb. Floats were decorated with lights – a tradition that continues to this day.
• Thomas Edison moved to Fort Myers in 1885 as a winter resident. He died Oct. 18, 1931, in West Orange, N.J.
• A children’s coronation and “baby parade” (now known as the Junior Parade) were added to the festival in 1946.
• The origins of the parade date to 1885, when Lee County was incorporated and residents threw themselves a big party – complete with cowboys showing off their roping and riding skills. The winning cowboy got the privilege of choosing a young woman to be the “Queen of Love and Beauty.”
• That earlier celebration eventually became the Sunshine Pageant in the 1920s, including an Edisonia-like Sunshine Court. The event transformed into the Pageant of Light in 1938 to honor Thomas Edison.
• It takes about 100 volunteers to put on the parade every year.
• Local arts matron Bernese “Berne” Davis is the oldest living queen of Edisonia. She was crowned in 1939 – only the second queen in the pageant’s history. She marks her 100th birthday next month.
• The Grand Parade takes about two hours to finish.
• The festival has been held every year since 1938, except for five years during World War II.