Babies on parade? It's been an Ocean City tradition for more than a century

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Twins Annaleise and William Visscher, 19 months, in the fire truck wagon designed by their mother and her family.

On Thursday, hundreds of tots (and other youngsters up to age 10) will promenade down the Ocean City Boardwalk in the family resort's 107th annual baby parade. Some will walk. Others will ride in style in fanciful strollers, go-carts, and wagons. All will delight onlookers.

The tradition dates back to 1909, when photoengraver Leo Bamberger - who helped organize Labor Day - founded the event.

According to Michael J. Hartman, Ocean City's special events coordinator and artistic director of the Greater Ocean City Theatre Company, in the golden age of the parade, attendees treated the festivities like a night on the town, dressing up in glamorous attire.

One not-as-cute component of the early iterations? As part of the judging process, a doctor would measure and examine the babies to gauge their health.

"Our goal is to keep it fresh and hip and exciting while also maintaining that old feel," Hartman said.

To keep with tradition, a guest serves as the grand marshal. This year, Kaitlin Becker, a host on Sunny Side Up - a live morning talk show on the preschool-focused cable network Sprout - takes the reins. Becker will be in good company: Grace Kelly, whose family owned a Shore home in Ocean City, was the 1947 marshal. Joe DiMaggio was it in 1983.

A Kentucky native, Becker, 32, learned about the baby parade several years ago while she was performing in a production of the theater company, where she has appeared in musicals such as Anything Goes and Hairspray since 2009.

"I saw the parade and thought, 'This is the cutest, coolest thing,' " she said.

Many families participating in the event also have strong Ocean City ties.

In the 1980s, Kim Hassel-Kloss of Ridley Park rode in the parade with her brother, Brian Hassel, in a wooden helicopter crafted by their father, Brian Sr., a carpenter. During the same decade, Hassel Sr. entered his son in the parade in a wooden train he built.

Now, Hassel-Kloss, 32, is entering her 7-month-old son, Edward Kloss IV, as "Eddie the Train Engineer." He will ride in that same train.

"My father kept [the wooden vehicles] in his attic all these years hoping that his grandchildren would use them one day," Hassel-Kloss said.

For Jennifer Visscher, an Ann Arbor, Mich., transplant who grew up in Lancaster, the Ocean City Baby Parade is "kind of like the highlight of the summer. We don't go back to Michigan until after the baby parade passes."

Since Visscher, 32, is a teacher, she could decamp to her parents' Ocean City Shore house with her 19-month-old twins, Annaleise and William, when the school year wrapped up in June. Last year, the twins - dressed as Thing 1 and Thing 2 and pushed in a lifeguard stand replica by Visscher's husband, Daniel, a Bermuda-shorts-wearing Cat in the Hat - won the "Most Outstanding Twins/Triplets" award. For the 2016 parade, the Visschers chose a firefighter theme.

Jennifer Jones of Holmes is also a repeat participant. In the 2015 parade, her then-1-year-old son, Jonathan Jones Carafa, placed second in the "Fancy Under 2 Years" division as "Our Little Meatball." The display consisted of Jonathan sitting in a kiddie pool overflowing with "spaghetti" made of spools of yarn and Styrofoam "meatballs." Jones and the rest of her family - her older sons, Michael and William Fedeli, and her husband, Joe Carafa - wore chef attire.

Jones, 40, is sticking with a culinary theme in 2016: "Ocean City, New Jersey: The Sweetest Place on Earth." With the family as candy makers, Jonathan will be dressed as blue cotton candy and surrounded by other oversize treats.

Some, like Divya Hardiya and her husband, Ankur Saxena, will be taking part in the parade - and traveling to Ocean City - for the first time.

Hardiya, 32, of Hoboken, is entering her 2-year-old son, Vedant Saxena. He appeared in the 2015 Hoboken Ragamuffin Parade, a Halloween procession, as an aviator. For the Ocean City Baby Parade, he'll drive the "Ocean City School Bus," which Hardiya made by covering a plastic yellow truck in a cardboard box. The bus is plastered in fish stickers, riffing on the other meaning of "school."

"This year, I decided to make a school bus because he's so crazy about the 'Wheels on the Bus' song," she said. "I just hope that he doesn't tear it apart."

The 107th annual Ocean City Baby Parade will begin on Thursday, Aug. 11, at 5 p.m. from Sixth through 12th Streets. Those who want to register a child in the parade can do so at the Ocean City Music Pier Information Center (Moorlyn Terrace and Boardwalk) or online through Ocean City's Community Pass system. Registration closes at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 9. $5 entry fee. Free for spectators. See ocnj.us/BabyParade for more information.

856-779-3813    zmiller@philly.com.