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Boatnik delivers slice of Americana to Grants Pass

This year's Boatnik parade moves down Sixth Street in Grants Pass with salutes to the victims and heroes of 9/11, the World Trade Center and the Fire Department of New York. Crowds jam the route under warm sunshine.

Here are marching bands, grand marshals Kerm Bennett and Chuck Barker, the American Legion, Vietnam vets, a hospice, Girl Scouts, lots of 1950s-vintage Chevrolets and the float of the S.O.F.A.S.T. Club, on which is mounted a machine gun with a sign reading Rent a machine gun at Josephine County Sportsman's Park.

Boatnik, the Grants Pass Active Club's annual Memorial Day extravaganza, kicked off Thursday in that city's Riverside Park, picked up steam with Saturday's downtown parade and continues through Monday with a carnival, crafts and boat racing. It's a slice of Americana that started in 1959.

It's pretty much stayed the same, says Caroline Berkman, who's been coming for years.

Among the veterans, Shriners, hot rods and Elvis impersonators are American flags, statues of Liberty, American eagles, a tableau of the World War II flag-raising on Iwo Jima staged by the Rogue Valley Young Marines.

Orange tape along the route draws a line between the parade and the waving crowds, and Grants Pass cops ride up and down the lines on motorcycles and bicycles.

In a staging area a block off the route, Nancy Campbell is among those putting final touches on floats and costumes just before 10 a.m. Campbell, 59, is portraying early Grants Pass resident Liz Hereby for the Josephine County Historical Society's float.

This year's theme is 'the Spirit of America,' she says. What could be more American than pioneers? Without them we wouldn't be here.

That gets a nod of approval from top-hatted Don Vogel, who is dressed up as Claus Schmidt, a prominent Grants Pass businessman of the early 20th century.

Liz's home was right over there, Campbell says, pointing past the float, a giant firecracker with stars and stripes, tinsel and a banner that says Happy 4th of July.

Her story is enough to make you cry.

Heberly's son was crushed to death by a hay wagon, Campbell says. Her husband, Louis, owned the Miner's Exchange bar at nearby Fifth and G streets. Louis became so depressed when Oregon went dry in 1908 that he killed himself. Herberly was later bitten by a cat that was raiding her hen house. When the wound became infected, she died.

Nearby is the Grants Pass Emblem Club's float honoring the 1st Battalion of the 186th Infantry National Guard and New York City. It has a Statue of Liberty, an American eagle, a poster of a New York firefighter with a pair of angel wings growing out of his back.

I love New York, the club's Jerri Thorp says. I just wouldn't want to live there.

The souped-up engines of street rods and customs thrum as parade time draws close, and a vintage fire engine chugs. A tricked-out, racing SUV sports logos for high-performance equipment, Mexican food and God.

The parade starts on time. The crowd cheers marching bands, custom cars, political candidates, horseback riders, the Grants Pass cavemen, a man riding a cart with an American flag draped over his shoulders, women pushing toddlers in strollers, a radio station van blaring a Lenny Kravitz tune.

Coming up today and Monday are sprint boats, jet boats and hydroplanes on the Rogue River, softball and basketball tournaments, food booths and more.

When this is over, Campbell says of the long parade, they'll start working on next year's.

English bulldog Duchess barks at the crowd along the parade route while owner Kelli Riddle greets them human style during Saturday's Boatnik parade in Grants Pass. Riddle's husband, Jim, is running for a spot on the Josephine County board of commissioners. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven