Edison Festival grand parade: What you need to know about the Fort Myers event (2024)

The Edison Festival of Light Grand Parade returns Saturday to downtown Fort Myers. Here’s everything you need to know about the annual event — and everything else happening this weekend:

What is the Edison Festival of Light Grand Parade?

It’s one of the biggest night parades in the Southeastern United States and also the biggest and longest-running parade in Southwest Florida.

The 2022 parade will feature about 150 units, including more than 30 floats, says parade chairman Mike Gill.

Honorary marshal:Edison Fest names 'local hero' as honorary grand marshal

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Edison Fest events:Here's a guide to every Edison Festival of Lightevent

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When and where is it?

The parade starts at 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 19. It travels from Fort Myers High School to Cleveland Avenue, then travels northalong Cleveland and through the streets of downtown Fort Myers.

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The return

Organizers canceled last year’s grand parade, along with the annual Junior Parade, due to rising COVID cases in Southwest Florida. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, Gill says.

“That was a tough one,” he says. “It really was. But that was beyond our control.”

Now the parade is back for 2022 — with a few differences.

Some parade regulars decided to skip the 2022 parade, including the Salvation Army and Littleton Elementary School, Gill says. So organizers have beefed up the parade with more marching bands, other locals and even some floats from Tampa'sGasparilla Pirate Festival parade.

“It’s going to be a different rendition of the Edison Grand Parade,” Gill says. “Our parade is going to be big, but the dynamics are going to be different.”

Another change: Local and state dignitaries won’t ride in new Ford Mustang convertibles, as usual. The reason: Supply-chain issues have affected availability for donor Sam Galloway Ford.

“We’ve had to scramble to find vehicles,” Gill says. “So we’re going to use Ford F-150 pickup trucks and whatever they can find to make it happen.”

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The tradition

The Edison Festival of Light is a two-week celebration that began in February 1938 as a way to honor Fort Myers' most famous winter resident, Thomas Edison. Back then, it was called the Pageant of Light.

Thomas Edison moved to Fort Myers in 1885 as a winter resident. He died Oct. 18, 1931, in West Orange, N.J.

The annual fest includes hymn sings, concerts, parades and car shows. But the biggest draw is always theEdison Festival of Light Grand Parade, whichattracts thousands of spectators to downtown Fort Myers every year (crowd estimates go as high as about 200,000).

The Grand Parade became a night parade in 1953 in honor of Edison's invention of the commercial light bulb. Floats were decorated with lights — a tradition that continues to this day.

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How long does the parade take?

The Grand Parade takes about two hours to finish. Fireworks light up the sky as the last parade unit enters downtown Fort Myers.

Parade attractions this year

The 2022 parade will feature about 150 units, including 18 high-school marching bands, 15 fire trucks and more than 30 illuminated floats, Gill says.

One of the coolest floats this year: A rock ‘n’ roll themed one from North Fort Myers’ Bayshore Elementary School. “It looks like a big boom box,” Gill says. “They’ve got about 50 kids on that thing, and they’re rockin’ and rollin.’ ”

Sam Galloway Ford’s float will be a tribute tolate dealership owner and philanthropist Sam Galloway Jr., including the 1906 Ford he usually drove in the parade. Galloway was one of the few people who knew how to drive the antique car, Gill says, so instead the car will be perched on a floatthis year.

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The parade also features about 20 units from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and six to eight floats from Tampa’s Gasparilla Pirate Festival parade.

Another big attraction this year: The return of the Indianapolis Metropolitan PoliceMotorcycleDrill Team. The daredevil traffic officers will rumble along the parade route on their Harley-Davidson motorcycles,weavingthem in tight patterns, standing on the seats (surfboard-style), popping wheelies or spelling out "I-N-D-I-A-N-A" with letters on the sides of their bikes.

That'salways a big draw, Gill says. And new this year: The officers’ families will travel the parade route with themin a trolley. “That’s going to be fun,” Gill says. “It should be an entertaining parade."

The parade marshals

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This year’s parade marshals will be Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez and Lee Health president and CEO Larry Antonucci, says Greg Edsell, board president for the nonprofit Edison Festival of Light.

Parade organizers chose Nunez mostly for her “star power,” Edsell says. But they wanted to honor a “local hero” as this year’s honorary marshal (also known as the people’s choice grand marshal), and Antonucci was an early frontrunner.

“Of course, his name came up pretty early on in the process,” Edsell says. “And, of course, it’s kind of in the forefront of everybody’s thoughts over the past two years — the sort of things that they’ve had to do and deal with.”

Antonucci says he’s excited to be in the parade. He’s lived in Southwest Florida for 38 years and often attends the parade with his family. His daughter, Rachel, was even a member of the Royal Court of Edisonia (more on the court below).

“I participated in the children’s parade when my children were small, you know, pulling wagons full of kids,” he says and laughs. “That was a lot of fun. But my kids are all grown up now. So that’s been a long time.”

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Antonucci will wave from a fire truck along with a handful of doctors, nurses and hospital staff. He says it was important to him that they be represented.

“I insisted on it,” he says. “They’re the ones, especially over these past couple of years, who’ve been incredible members of our community and have served this community selflessly.

“If you remember the early parts of the pandemic, when we really didn’t know much about the virus, they showed up every day without concern for their own safety. … And they’ve done an incredible job.

"It’s been inspiring to watch them. So it was critically important that they be there with me on the float.”

What’s up with those kings and queens?

Every year, members of the Pageant of Light and the Fort Myers Woman's Community Club choose a new king and queen to rule the imaginary land of “Edisonia." Those newly crowned royals appear in the Grand Parade accompanied by princes, princesses, dukes, duch*esses and the rest of the royal court. The 12 members of the Royal Court of Edisoniaare all teens and 20-somethings.

The Edison Festival of Light isn't the same thing as the Edison Pageant of Light, by the way.The Festival of Light is the nonprofit that organizes the Grand Parade and other events. The private Pageant of Light crowns the Royal Court of Edisonia every year.

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What roads will be blocked?

Expect road closures along Cleveland Avenue and downtown Fort Myers for Saturday's parade. These closures begin at 5 p.m. unless otherwise noted:

  • Cleveland Avenue between Hanson and Main streets
  • Edwards Drive (closed from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.)
  • Bay Street between Heitman and Jackson streets
  • First Street between Fowler and Jackson streets
  • Main Street between Cleveland Avenue and Hendry Street
  • Monroe Street between Main Street and Edwards Drive (closed at 7 a.m.)
  • Heitman Street from Bay Street to Edwards Drive (closed at 7 a.m.)
  • Broadway between Second and Bay streets
  • Hendry Street between Main Street and Edwards Drive (closed from 6 a.m. to noon)
  • Jackson Street between Edwards Drive and Edison Avenue
  • Cortez Avenue between Del Rio and Llewellyn drives
  • Llewellyn Drive between Cortez and Cleveland avenues
  • Hoople Street between Jackson Street and Central Avenue
  • Crawford Street between Jackson Street and Central Avenue
  • Lafayette Street between Jackson Street and Central Avenue
  • Royal Palm Avenue between Bay Street and Thompson
  • Lee Street between Edwards Drive and Thompson/Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
  • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard between Fowler and Heitman streets
  • And the downtown boat ramp

Also, the ramp off the Caloosahatchee Bridge into downtown Fort Myers and the southbound lanes of traffic will be diverted onto McGregor Boulevard.

Police encourage those who want to attend the parade to arrive downtown prior to 5 p.m. The parking garages will be open before the parade starts and access to downtown will be very limited during the parade.

Anyone not attending should avoid the area, according to the Fort Myers Police Department. Alternate routes include the Edison Bridge, Fowler Street and Veronica Shoemaker Boulevard.

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Where to park

Parking can be tricky, so you shouldn’t wait until the last minute. Many streets are closed for the parade, and street parking is limited.

Options include two parking garages in downtown Fort Myers. The Main Street garage can be accessed from both Main and Second Streets, and the Harborside garage can be accessed from Monroe or Bay streets. They cost $1 per hour or $5 for the whole day.

Many churches and businesses will also let you park in their lots for a fee. Just expect to be walking several blocks.

What else is happening for Edison Fest?

There’s more happening than just the parade. Here's everything else going onthis weekend and next week.

Rhythm on the River: Neil Diamond tribute artist Neil Zirconia performs for the ongoing Rhythm on the River concert series on the Ford lawn overlooking the Caloosahatchee River. 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 18. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. $25-$30. Guests are encouraged to bring folding lawn chairs, blankets and/or sweaters. No coolers allowed. Edison & Ford Winter Estates, 2350 McGregor Blvd., downtown Fort Myers.

Crafts on the River: Exhibitors display and sell handmade crafts during this non-juried event by the Caloosahatchee River. Items include jewelry, photography, paintings, sculptures and more. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 19-20. Free. Centennial Park in downtown Fort Myers.

Edison Festival of Light 5K: This 3.1-mile race travels through downtown Fort Myers. More than 1,400 people take part every year in the 5K. 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 19. Entry fee is $35. Race starts at the intersection of Bay and Jackson streets in downtown Fort Myers.

Classic Car Show: Edwards Drive will be lined with hundreds of hot rods and classic cars. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 20. Free. Edwards Drive in downtown Fort Myers.

Cracker Dinner: This annual dinner includes door prizes, live music, a silent auction and this year's speakers, Beverly Cox and Emmaline Beaumont, who will tell stories of Fort Myers’ past. Presented by the Southwest Florida Historical Society. 5:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 21. $35. Broadway Palm dinner theater, 1380 Colonial Blvd., Fort Myers. Tickets sold at Broadway Palm.facebook.com/SWFLHS

Learn more

For more information about the parade and the Edison Festival of Light, call 334-2999 or visitedisonfestival.org.

Connect with this reporter:Charles Runnells is an arts and entertainment reporter for The News-Press and the Naples Daily News. Email him at crunnells@gannett.com or connect on Facebook (facebook.com/charles.runnells.7), Twitter (@charlesrunnells) and Instagram (@crunnells1).

Edison Festival grand parade: What you need to know about the Fort Myers event (2024)

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