Childhood Memories Friday: Sidewalk Shoebox House Parade

     Childhood Memories Friday has pretty much wrapped up with the publication of my memoir, but every now and then I remember something else fun to reminisce about. Or, in this case, my kindergarten teacher does!
     I got an email from her recently, and she shared this memory from her own childhood:
     “When I was about 10 to 12 years old, my family lived in an eastside neighborhood in Evansville, Indiana.  There were not a lot of children in the neighborhood, but those of us that were there used to do this in the summertime.  I can’t remember if we made it up ourselves or if it was some sort of activity that was common to that neighborhood and time — about 1943 to 1945.
     “We would take shoe boxes or similar size boxes and cut windows in them so they looked like houses.  If we were lucky we could find some scraps of colored cellophane (a clear, transparent wrapping paper that looked like plastic only it wasn’t).  We would tape or paste that over the windows from the inside,  attach a thin rope or string to the front of the house, put an old candle stub inside.  At dusk we would light the candles and  pull them along the side walk as in a parade.  We called them lighthouses.  I no longer have contact with any of the friends I used to do that with.  My best friend at that time passed away recently.
     “I have just been wondering if that was just a regional thing, or if other little girls in other places did the same thing.  I’m also wondering how in the world we kept our “lighthouses” from catching fire and burning up.  Maybe the sidewalks were smoother then.  Those who had wagons could pull them in the wagon, but the rest of us just drug them along with the rope or string.
     “In those days people sat on their front porches a lot in the evenings, so we always had an audience for our parades.
      “I tried several phrases on the internet and did get someone’s blog about a shoebox float parade telling how to decorate the boxes like parade floats with Barbie and other small dolls riding on them and have a parade in the daytime.
      “Just wondering if any of your contacts might ask their Moms or Grandmas if they remember any such thing.”
     I definitely remember making dollhouses and furniture from boxes (large ones for the houses, small Jello and canning lid boxes for furniture). I also remember having parades with my Fisher Price Little People. But parades of shoebox houses? I don’t think I did that. And I’m sure I never lit candles inside of anything. I still remember being traumatized when I lit the birthday bank for the little kids in Miss Fairy’s Sunday School class as a teen, and the flame came up the matchstick to burn my fingernail! I wonder, as well, how the little candles stayed lit as they were pulled along but didn’t catch anything on fire.
     Turning to you, readers: did any of you play at a similar pursuit as children?
Update: My kindergarten teacher was kind enough to email that, upon further research, she’s learned more about the origins of the parade. It seems it is called the Lighthouse Parade, and it’s still going on in Evansville, Indiana each year!

11 thoughts on “Childhood Memories Friday: Sidewalk Shoebox House Parade

  1. I am glad you did a post about Mrs. Wintin’s inquiry. I also hope some will have interesting memories to share with her.

  2. My mom was telling us this same story about shoe box house. She is from the mid west. I thought she was crazy so i looked online and found this post. Very funny.

  3. I was just doing a search on “shoebox lighthouse” with the same question: was it just regional or some old European custom? Maybe about 4 or 5 yrs old, circa 1953, we (brothers) would do this when visiting our grandmother. I can’t quite remember if we were in the parade or if it was just us, but the shoebox lighthouse was precisely as described here, with the cellophane, candles, and string. And yes, it was Evansville.

    A few years back I saw what seemed like it might be a brief allusion to this custom,,,,, I think it was in “Delta Wedding” (Welty)– perhaps a southern custom?

  4. I came across the likely origin of the shoebox lighthouse, from William Maxwell, “Time Will Darken it.” :
    “The children of Elm Street, for reasons of their own… appeared pulling lighted shoeboxes. In Bremen and Hamburg, which the children had never heard of, the same custom prevailed at this period and so it may have been brought to Illinois from one or the other of those German cities. The shoeboxes had star-shaped and moon-shaped windows cut in the sides and covererd with coloured tissue paper, and there was a round hole in the top, directly over the candle which supplied illumination. The shoeboxes, each drawn by a string, in a procession, made a soft shuffling sound and threw shafts of coloured light on the sidewalk. “

  5. I’m so glad to find this story on here. I often tell my grandchildren about doing this as a child in Evansville, Indiana. I grew up at the same time – about 1943 or so. Sometimes our candles did fall over and there were little fires, but we put sand in the bottom of the boxes. I can’t believe our parents let us do this. Such wonderful memories.

  6. My mother helped me and my neighborhood friends build these in the early 50’s in Terre Haute, Indiana. Some of us even built a double decker by placing a small box on top of the large one and cutting holes in the bottom of the smaller box. My mother led us around the block at dusk. I remember one boy’s caught on fire and he ran, dragging the box behind him. My mother raced after him and stomped out the flames. What a fun memory.

  7. I’m glad I found your shoe box stories. I, too, took part in the shoe box lighthouse parade in the early 40’s. We lived on Bellemeade on the East side. The shoe boxes did sometimes catch on fire. I wonder how we all knew which evening this event would be held.

  8. My sis and I were talking on the phone about lighthouses and while talking I googled and found your post. We were both amazed when you mentioned the eastside if Evansville. We made those shoe boxes and pulled them up and down Bayard Park Drive near Weinbach back in the 50s. Could you have played with us?? The Fall Festival has a Lighthouse Parade every year but they don’t necessarily use shoe boxes and they have to use battery operated lights – Great idea!! Of course, not around when we were constructing ours. Anyway, really enjoyed this post and wondered if you played with us.

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