On a recent Saturday morning, a brightly lighted, cavernous truck bay in the back of Cavan Construction in Aston is a hive of activity. About a half dozen men are clustered around an 18-wheel tractor-trailer, sawing, drilling and hammering, carefully crafting the Cavan Society float for the 2019 Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade. In this, they are able assisted by a curious boxer named Diesel. That is, if “help” means leaving paw prints all over freshly green-painted wooden planks.
We can tell you the theme. It’s the same as this year’s parade theme: “St. Patrick, Unite Us.” Beyond that, until Sunday, the day of the parade, it’s a big secret. Some of the wooden shapes hinted at the beginnings of a bridge, and there was a small house-shaped structure at the tail end. But that’s all you’re getting from us.
And it’s all you’re likely to get from Sean Smith, company project manager and superintendent, as well as the chief overseer of the float construction project.
Cavan has won for best float several years running. That’s in part because of the dwindling number of floats in the parade, Smith says, but it’s also because Cavan Construction, along with Cavan Society members, friends and family, put their heart and no small amount of money into building the best possible, most creative float.
“Growing up, it was always a secret, or at least the way I took it. You didn’t want the other side to know what you had until parade day and you rolled up JFK Boulevard,” says Smith. “That’s when you saw what the other societies had. Up to that point it was all hush-hush.”
How much money does it actually cost to build the float? Smith doesn’t know for sure. “We never really sat down and put it together, penny by penny. It was never really one of the things we looked at. It was really more getting together and putting together a good float and having a good time while we were doing it.”
Fortunately, Cavan is a large construction company, and all of the materials are readily at hand.
Planning begins at the beginning of February every year. “From the beginning to the middle of February, we throw out ideas, and then we take a pencil and paper and start sketching ideas,” he says. “Then we go out and build it.”
Lori Lander Murphy and I took a trip out to Aston to photograph the proceedings. Take a look at our photo essay.