WENATCHEE — This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Washington State Apple Blossom Festival. From its beginnings in 1919, when a woman from New Zealand proposed the idea for a "blossom day," to today — it's a celebration we've loved over the years.
The festival means something different to everyone. For me, it's all about the history.
Last fall, I came up with an idea to honor this milestone by compiling information about each festival. As librarian at The Wenatchee World and writer of the "Old News" column, I've always had an interest in looking through past issues of The (Daily) World. This project seemed to be a perfect match of both, and so I began my research of "100 Years of Apple Blossom."
I culled information from our World archives — microfilm up to 1982; clipping files from 1983 to 1991; and digital from 1992 to present. Photos were obtained from World archives with some contributions over the years from the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center and other sources.
I read through hundreds of stories to capture a "snapshot" of each year's festival. My goal was to select content I thought to be unique, yet to also include information consistent to every festival — such as names of the queens and princesses, and director generals.
As I moved along from year-to-year, it was interesting to note certain trends.
In the early years, festivals were scheduled at varying times, often to coincide with what was predicted to be full bloom. The first festival in 1920 hit peak bloom on the nose, May 7 — a date set by horticulturist P.S. Darlington. There was at least one year when the festival date was determined by "three wise men" — Fred Overley, Leo Antles and L.G. Bovee. Other festivals were scheduled following weather and bloom patterns. By the early 1950s, the date was established for the first weekend in May in order to secure advance publicity and to be consistent.
What started out to be more of a local festival would change as outside communities became more involved.
Memorial Park and Wenatchee High School were the hubs of many of the festival events in the earlier years. There were coronations, plays, dances, speeches, concerts and fireworks shows that were often times displays of grand pomp and pageantry. A Queen Columbia was also named, chosen from community princesses.
There were four years without the festival. In 1932, the country was facing the Great Depression. World War II would halt the event from 1943 to 1945. During these years, there was no parade or official program.
Athletics would take on more of a role with swimming at Hughes Memorial Pool, archery championships at Pioneer Park, baseball games, track meets, and even marble tournaments.
Prior to the festival, the royal court would often travel the state visiting the smallest communities and largest cities. They visited media outlets, attended chamber banquets, chatted with state government officials, and mixed with celebrities. Some promotional tours also reached beyond the Northwest, with trips to Chicago, Hollywood and Hawaii.
Men were introduced into the royal realm when a King Apple was named for a few years.
The festival drew its share of notable people over the years. Louis Hart was the first state governor to attend the festival in 1923. Other governors, such as Clarence D. Martin and Arthur B. Langlie, attended multiple years. Lt. Gov. John Cherberg was in town to crown the queen in 1962. Later on, Gov. Dixy Lee Ray showed up in 1980, and Gov. John Spellman the following year. Others would also attend along with many legislators.
Of course, the festival was no stranger to celebrities as grand marshals. DeForest Kelley (1960s), Shirley Jones (1997), Vicki Lawrence (1998), Danny Glover (1999) and Tom Arnold (2000) all took a spin down Orondo Avenue in the grand parade. The Budweiser Clydesdales clop-clopped as grand marshals in 1996 and Olympian Torin Koos served in 2002.
The parades would evolve through the years.
It started with a caravan of vehicles touring orchards. The grand parade would soon expand from strictly local participation to include floats, bands and other marching units from throughout North Central Washington and later from around the Northwest and Canada. The school or junior parade was introduced on the Friday of the 1923 festival. An illuminated night parade was even introduced in 1925. The festival schedule would eventually expand from one weekend to two.
Festival events sometimes went beyond the "official." One year, a neighborhood "parade" was held prior to the real thing with the official Apple Blossom royalty as honored guests. During a later period of time, cruising Wenatchee Avenue was a big deal.
It was noted many times over the years that the festival was not just a "one-man show." It was made possible through the spirit and combined effort of out-of-town visitors, and local merchants, civic leaders and families.
Our series, "100 Years of Apple Blossom," will be published each day through May 5. I hope you enjoy reading about the rich heritage of our festival — a true local treasure!