What do a car covered in pot leaves, Revolutionary War re-enactors and a naughty list from Santa Claus with names like Steve Pinto and Flash have in common?

They're all part of a tradition of horribles parades aimed at helping build community, and taking some good-natured jabs at hot-button issues here at home and across the nation. Although, at times, those jabs have been very personal and stirred up controversy, particularly at the Beverly Farms parade.

Most recently, the Farms parade was sharply criticized by city officials in 2017 after a float appeared that used a vulgar slur to target a Beverly woman who had been critical of the parade the year before for various floats she felt were highly insensitive and offensive. In the aftermath, Mayor Mike Cahill said he would not walk in the parade again unless changes were made.

On Thursday morning, in addition to the Farms, neighborhoods in Salem and elsewhere on the North Shore celebrated the Fourth of July with their annual horribles parades, featuring floats and signs that satirized politicians, global warming, fossil fuels and women's reproductive rights, among other issues, and others that just dressed up as Disney movie characters.

Michelle Sweeney, adorned with straight black hair, a woman's pantsuit and several Kim Driscoll buttons, played the part of Salem's mayor for the 11th year in a row in the Salem Willows parade Thursday morning.

"The 'mayor' has been doing this for 11 years now, and I just like to welcome people for the Fourth of July," Sweeney said, "and I kind of introduce the float: 'From hangings to hangers.'"

With two clothes hangers attached to the back of her suit, Sweeney walked with a float sporting references to the death of Pell grants for college-bound students, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act, and restrictions on women's health and reproductive rights in general.

In the back of the float, an actor dressed as the Statue of Liberty was about to give birth with a gavel-wielding judge keeping watch of the birth canal. All the while, other people on the float would periodically emphasize the "democracy aborted" theme, thrusting letters spelling out "ABORTED" in the air.

Sweeney said the float did represent a pro-choice perspective on this national debate, with the mention of "hangings" as an obvious nod to the Salem Witch Trials 327 years ago.

But many of those participating in the Beverly and Salem parades Thursday morning had generally the same thing to say about their floats: It's all about family and community.

"I grew up in this town. I've been coming to this parade since I had been born," said Lisa Rich, a Beverly resident behind the wheel of a "BEST BUDS" marijuana-themed float in Beverly Farms. 

Not every float at the parades had an adult theme. Some went straight for the hearts of children watching from the sidewalks.

"We went to see the Toy Story 4 movie, and they absolutely loved it," said Wendy Dodge, a local resident on the back of a child-staffed Toy Story float.

By Dodge's side as "You've Got A Friend In Me" blared from the truck's interior a few feet away, Beverly resident Liz St. Hilaire added that Toy Story brings "a legacy" to the Horribles. So too does the family on the float.

"I was on floats with her father when we were young," St. Hilaire said, pointing to Dodge. "It was a community growing up over the years, and our families too have grown up in the Farms."

The same was said by the hanger-decorated Driscoll look-alike in Salem.

"It's just a great community builder, just a lot of fun," Sweeney said. "As much as we're laughing at the issues — we're concerned about them, our Statue of Liberty down here is about to have a baby, I guess? We try to do our best to blend everything in. But some of us have developed great friendships from doing this yearly."

Contact Salem reporter Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

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