Before being phased out in the mid-80s, the Kennebunkport Dump Parade was one of New England’s most unusual celebrations.
Trash. We all have it, and we all create it. We spend our lives trying to get rid of it. There’s nothing dignified or elegant about trash. But if you were in Kennebunkport, Maine during the summers of the 60s through the early 80s, trash not only brought people together, it was celebrated with the annual Dump Parade.
I was a child of the 70s who grew up in Kennebunk during simpler times with even simpler pleasures. And the Kennebunk-Kennebunkport area was known not only for its historical value and charm, but it had what makes a town appealing: its people.
A brainchild of the Kennebunkport Dump Association and its founder, Ed Mayo, a local artist and true town character, the Dump Parade was launched in 1965 as a tongue-in-cheek way to celebrate environmental awareness. Mayo, who died in 1989, was the KDA’s president who also owned a local art gallery. Mayo and the Association’s members believed that trash belonged in the dump and not on the streets. In 1967, the KDA’s efforts were honored for its efforts by the Keep America Beautiful organization. One of KDA’s mottoes was, “Our smell is swell!”
Back then, those weekly trips to the dump were a way for locals to meet up and talk politics, gossip, chew the fat with their neighbors, and pick through piles of trash for “treasures” to bring home. The Dump Association even had their own “credit card” of sorts to enable the holder “visiting privileges.” The card was complete with the Association’s logo, a flower growing from an old tin can.
So the idea of the Kennebunkport “dump” parade came about organically, rising from the heaps of garbage that united so many people. Void of all ego, the many organizers and participants would put on a spectacular show for locals and tourists that made the Tournament of Roses Parade look garish and pompous. Local businesses would create outlandish floats with their own themes, bestrewn in tin cans, rotted fruit, fish heads, and all manner of debris. Nunan’s Lobster Hut, the White Barn Inn, and Pillsbury Plumbing (now Garrett Pillsbury) were among roughly 30 participants, businesses that created parade floats which carried employees and owners who engaged the crowds with enthusiasm that was not only good advertising, but enormous fun!
“I remember the mass of humanity for such a small town. Togas and dead fish everywhere,” my cousin, Thomas Gallagher, who was 12 years old at the time, recalls. That was in 1982 and NBC’s “Real People” came to film the Parade. The town went nuts! Most of the floats had signs welcoming the NBC crew, and parade goers were looking everywhere for the cameras.
The highlight of the Parade was the crowning of “Miss Dumpy.” Teenagers from Kennebunk High School and college students working in Kennebunkport for the summer would dress in outrageous costumes and flaunt their garbage with glorious pride. These young ladies, adorned with an array of filth, sashayed for the judges and onlookers with poise and pungency unlike any Miss America contestant ever dared. One was crowned Miss Dumpy, but they were all fashionable, trashionable winners in everyone’s eyes.
Jayne Bergeron, who was a Miss Dumpy runner-up in 1982 and now lives in North Carolina, recalls the event as “something I still look back on and laugh about.” Bergeron was photographed by National Geographic Magazine for a 1983 article titled “The Fascinating World of Trash.” Her costume consisted of paper-mache seagulls for a hat, plastic six-pack rings as a boa, fish netting, and grapefruit halves as a bra.
“My dad pulled the photo out just last year during my 50th birthday party,” Bergeron said. “My southern teacher colleagues and church friends were pretty shocked! It’s not easy to explain the Dump Parade or Miss Dumpy.”
The Kennebunkport Dump Parade was phased out in the mid-80s, discontinued for several reasons, including liability issues. The Parade was brought back for a one-time event in 2003 for the town’s 350th anniversary celebration.
The days of the Kenebunkport Dump Parade are long gone now. But if you find yourself in the Kennebunks, ask around. You might hear some crazy stories from local – or not so local – characters who participated in the festivities. Who knows? You might even meet a former Miss Dumpy.