Portsmouth cake float gets topped off for parade


PORTSMOUTH — Joan Eline has never seen the Bristol Fourth of July Parade, but on Thursday morning she'll be marching in it.

On Friday she was at Park Place Holdings, a storage facility for classic and collectible cars, putting the finishing touches on a 8x16-foot birthday cake to honor the town's 375th anniversary year. The paper mache cake, which she conceived and built with help from volunteers and Girl Scout Troop 730, will be loaded on a trailer and pulled over the Mt. Hope Bridge early Thursday.

Hopefully it will be a safe ride, she said.

"I've got sheet plastic. I'll cover the whole thing and staple it to the deck of the trailer for the wind can't get in," said Ms. Eline, a member of the Portsmouth 375th Events Committee, as she worked on attaching 12 candles to the top of the cake on Friday.

Why 12?

"It seemed like a good number. Plus that's how many paper towel holders I had," she said.

The candles may be red, white and blue, but the cake also has a touch of green: Some of the decorations used are actually recycled tickets from a 375th event that had to be canceled due to inclement weather.

"They took the ticket part off and re-mounted it on here. Somebody said, 'Why don't we put them on the float?' and I said, 'Sure — give them to me,'" said Ms. Eline.

She originally conceived of the cake as being round, but figured that would be much harder to build. As a group, volunteers spent less than 20 hours assembling the frame, covering it in paper mache and putting on the decorations.

The hardest part, she said, was putting on the paper mache. "I would have liked it to have a couple more coats, but with the time we had it wasn't feasible," she said. "I didn't want to start working on it until we had gotten the invitation to be in the parade, because we wouldn't need it again until Labor Day."

Nancy Parker Wilson of Greenvale Vineyards, a member of the Portsmouth 375th Steering Committee, is friends with Wayne Lee, general manager of Park Place, which allowed the float to be stored there. Jan Construction will tow the float over the bridge.

"We have to be in Bristol, at Colt State Park, by 7. The parade starts at 10:30," said Ms. Eline, noting that five Girl Scouts will ride their bikes alongside the float, while the rest — "We can have up to 25 people with us," she said — will probably walk the two-mile route. The 375th cake will be the 10th float in the second division, she said.

Hopefully, it won't rain on their parade — or the paper mache float.

"Somebody had suggested that we shellack the whole thing when we were done, but my husband seems to think that, because most of the decorations are made out of construction paper, the colors would run."

If the weather is indeed wet, she said they'll deal with it.

"I don't know. It will be a MacArthur Park kind of day," said Ms. Eline, referring to the 1968 Richard Harris song. "Someone left the cake out in the rain."


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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.