High Tide

The CapeMay.com blog

The Parade Lady: Charlotte Daily

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2006 issue of Cape May Magazine and has been updated.


Charlotte Daily

Charlotte Daily

She is one of Cape May’s best known celebrities, but few could tell you her real name. She is called The Parade Lady, famous for staging a colorful holiday tradition every December for the past 44 years. Her name is Charlotte Warner Daily. She is part rogue, part saint – sweet and tough. She is a showboat of a person who wishes life would have put her on stage, singing and dancing in the bright lights of Broadway. Instead she lives on Broadway, in West Cape May, and lights up her street every year with her big heart and uncanny ability to produce one of the best old-fashioned hometown parades in America. Her efforts are all volunteer and have been since 1965. She is a retired West Cape May city clerk and dreams of having the time one day to pick up her paint brush again and enjoy making some art with her grandchildren. That’s doubtful anytime soon, because her obsession is still the magic of the West Cape May Christmas Parade.

Karen: When you staged the first parade, did you envision it would become such a major tradition?

Parade Lady: No, I thought it would be a one-time happening.

Karen: Why did you organize your first parade, in 1965?

Parade Lady: The annual City of Cape May parade was cancelled because of bad weather. The rain poured in sheets. I never saw it rain so hard, and then pea-soup fog rolled in. Santa Claus was supposed to come to town on a train – The Lady Bird Special that had been in President Johnson’s inaugural parade. Well, they never rescheduled the Cape May parade. The kids were so disappointed. That made me really mad. Now don’t make me mad!

Charlotte (age)

Charlotte at age 15, 1944, with her beloved saxophone, which she played in the Cape May High School Band.

Karen: So you took matters in your own hands?

Parade Lady: I did. Understand that my kids had worked so hard on their 4-H float and they had won a $100 prize for the best in a Sea Isle City parade. I was so proud of their work, I wanted their hometown to see their float. I told everybody everywhere in the county to come to our parade, but then it was cancelled. I couldn’t let down the children. I was their 4-H leader. Our club was The Snappers, specializing in sewing. I said to my husband, “Let’s have a West Cape May Christmas Parade.” So we go over to Mayor Ed Smith’s house, and his wife said – “Sure, come on in.” That’s the way it was then. Real small town. The mayor was sitting there, putting on his shoes and socks. I told him we needed to start a parade of our own. He said okay, as long as it doesn’t cost the Borough of West Cape May one cent.

Karen: What was the theme of the float that made you so proud?

Parade Lady: Our theme was “May the Angels Watch Over Them While They Protect Us.” There were three angels dressed in white, standing on risers, watching over five soldiers in the battlefield. Vietnam was then. It was 1965. They were sending more troops into the war.

Karen: Did the parade cost you money?

Parade Lady: I took $45 out of the cookie jar and bought a can of coffee and a box of chocolate and some candies. We served the band kids hot chocolate and the firemen coffee and handed out wrapped penny candies. We had some small contributions. Everyone had a wonderful time. Would you believe our generator died on Washington Street, and our float was unable to finish the parade? Right away people started calling me The Parade Lady, and wanted to know if we were going to have a parade down Broadway again next year.

Karen: Have you always lived on Broadway here in West Cape May?


Charlotte dressed as a Lily Sprite for a Cape May children’s parade in 1937.

Parade Lady: For many years I have. My husband H. Gene Daily and I got married on Coast Guard Day August 4, 1950. We met at the Coast Guard canteen where I volunteered. I sold my boat and saxophone to help buy our first house. We bought this house in 1952 for $5,000. I loved the picket fence, the pathway, and how it sits way back from Broadway, in the garden. My husband died Saint Patrick’s Day, 1974. I have lived in Cape May for all my 75 years. I am a 4th generation native.

Karen: Where did you grow up? Did that shape who you are?

Parade Lady: By Schellenger’s Landing by the Thoroughfare Bridge that doesn’t open anymore. My house was at 1293 Lafayette Street. (A condominium is located there now, at Lafayette and Texas Avenue.) My father was Ray Warner, the manager of the food market on Washington Street, before it was a mall. I lived next door to my grandmother Rebecca Mills. She ran Becky Mill’s candy and ice cream store. She sold penny candies and Abbott’s ice cream. I was an only child, a spoiled brat. I spent most of my time with her, and my uncle, who ran a boat repair business right next to the guy who opened the bridge. I had my own little boat. Catty-cornered from my house was Matty’s Bar. I would sit in my window and listen to the musicians at the bar. I wanted to go on over and join in. I always loved being around people, wanted to see people happy.

Charlotte in clown costume, dancing with Greater Kensington String Band captain Scott Moyer in 2002.

Charlotte in clown costume, dancing with Greater Kensington String Band captain Scott Moyer in 2002.

Karen: Was it in your childhood environment that set the stage for becoming a parade producer?

Parade Lady: I always wanted to be in show business. But I love Cape May so much I never wanted to leave town. I’ve been in parades all my life. When I was a child, my mother made me costumes for the parades. When I was seven, she dressed me as The Lily Sprite in my own personal float. I love music. I played the saxophone all through school and marched in many parades. I sang in the Methodist Church choir with adults when I was a child. I took dance lessons with Jerry Love. To this day, I still do the Lily Sprite dance. Life makes me happy. When it rains and there are puddles in the garden, I just run out there and sing and dance (to) “Just Singing in the Rain…” Then I go into a comedy routine, and hunker down like a duck, “Quack, quack, quack.” People think I am crazy. I am just happy.

Karen: What do you love about Cape May?

Parade Lady: I like everything about it. Mostly I love it because it’s a small town. I liked it better the way it was when I knew everyone, when outside West Cape May was country with cows, dairies, horses. The 4-H kids used to march their horses and goats in the parade. Now I am lucky if I see two people I know.The development is taking it away…taking it all away. It was really wonderful when I was a kid. I knew every shop owner and I greeted every person I met on the street. It felt so secure, just heaven on earth. I liked it the way it was. I cannot say I like it the way it is coming to be. Part of that is my fault. I’m the one who wanted everyone to come see my wonderful town, and drew hundreds, thousands to my Christmas parades. Maybe it was all a mistake.

Third Annual West Cape May Christmas Parade, 1967. Dot Burton, co-chair, left; the Parade Lady, Charlotte Daily, right.

Third Annual West Cape May Christmas Parade, 1967. Dot Burton, co-chair, left; the Parade Lady, Charlotte Daily, center.

Karen: At 79 years of age now, do you ever think about calling it quits?

Parade Lady: I am going to do this until the parade celebrates its 50th anniversary. That sounds like a good round number to me. I will be 85. The parade is my stress test for the year. I run here and hop there, up and down the parade route. I dance with the Mummers’ captain, and get out in front of the fire truck that drives too fast. If I don’t pass out or drop dead, I am good for another year.

Karen: What motivates you to get up the energy for the parade every year?

Parade Lady: It’s the look on the children’s faces. I go down the route and look into hundreds of faces. It is a very, very happy time. I have five children of my own, three girls and two boys, all grown now. For them, especially my daughter Jeanette and all the big kids her age, we invite Sally Starr, the TV personality of the 50s and 60s to ride in her cowgirl outfit. I have 29 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren and most of them are in the parade every year. When my Becky wanted to be in the parade at age 3, I had no float for her. I took an old lawn mower, made a chimney from a box, and put on a sign: “Looking for Santa Claus.” It was a hit.

Karen: Do you decorate for the holidays, cook a family meal?

Charlotte and ?

Charlotte and Dot Burton

Parade Lady: I don’t cook a big meal anymore. I used to, the turkey and all the trimmings like my mother did. We cut a cedar tree out in any field, and Mother and Dad installed a train that went all around the tree, all around the room. Sometimes I don’t decorate until the day after Christmas. The parade work begins Labor Day and doesn’t end until New Year’s Day. On New Year’s, no one bothers me. No one. I have the day to myself and the Mummers Parade on TV. I love the Mummers. If I didn’t do the parade, I would be the Mummers P.R. lady and make them famous all over the world.

Karen: Producing a parade involves a lot of people, a lot of politics – have you had problems?

Parade Lady: You know I love the Mummers. The first time I invited a band, I paid $500. They were awful. There were only about 15. They were not dressed in costume. They played the same song, “Golden Slippers”, the whole route. They got fired. I didn’t pay them. I learned a lesson, and the Mummers have been wonderful ever since in full dress, and full band. One year I had to bail out the parade with $800 of my own money. There was the year there was a dispute with the fire companies because the parade was the same night as their benefit bingo game. The fire companies boycotted. It was headlines in all the papers. It was a mess. But the show must go on. So we went ahead with the parade, and a few fire companies participated anyway.

Karen: What was your favorite parade?

Charlotte and ? at the 40th

Charlotte and Dot Burton on their own float at the 40th Annual West Cape May Christmas Parade in 2005.

Parade Lady: [2005] Our 40th anniversary. About 60 units participated. We had about 20 fire companies, and most of the trucks decorated. I’m a real stickler about that. I want the trucks all decked out. We had a dozen marching bands and four Mummers bands and about 20 floats. Dot Burton and I had our own 40th anniversary float. Dot said that was her last parade. She is 81 now. She was a school crossing guard, and always did the line up at the starting gate. The weather last year was good, cold but Christmasy, and the audience was very appreciative. The parade cost about $14,000. I am $2,000 in the hole starting this year, but we will make it up with my letter-writing campaign and fund raisers. I want to say that neither the city governments of Cape May or West Cape May contribute money. Services yes, but money no.

Karen: How do you want to be remembered?

Parade Lady: As the Parade Lady. I want that on my tombstone: The Parade Lady, and an American flag. I just love my country. It’s my little place, my parade, and I do the best I can with my little place, West Cape May. I can’t do big things; big things upset me when people start talking big wars and big money; I don’t know where to put the decimal point. I think if everyone would do their best in their own small place, their community, the whole wide world would be a better place rather than trying to do something to another place that you really can’t do anything about.


Help save the West Cape May Christmas Parade by sending your donations to 732 Broadway, West Cape May, NJ 08204.