For many cities and small towns across the South, agriculture was the backbone of the community and annual harvests provided opportunities for work and play. People came together to gather and then celebrate the year’s bounty. As the years went by, many of these events were formalised by town governments into large scale fairs and festivals which brought adults and children into the town to join in the celebrations.
Winchester, with its long history in the apple growing industry, chose to honour the beauty and the bounty of the apple blossom.
On Saturday May the 3rd, 1924, the first Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival was held. It was a one day event which culminated in the crowning of Queen Shenandoah, Miss Elizabeth Steck.
Since 1924 the festival has grown in size, extravagance and national acclaim. During the 1930s,however, there was a loss of interest in the festival. This led to the hiring of one Tom Baldridge to the position of festival director. Baldridge was employed in the publicity department of MGM, responsible for promoting careers of young actors. He was able to schedule the appearance of celebrities at the festival and this lead to a huge renewal of interest in Apple Blossom.
Winchester has a population of around 24,000 people but during the six day Apple Blossom Festival, anywhere from 250,000 to 300,000 people descend on this little city to watch and take part in a wide range of activities and parades. There is a wine festival, Miss Apple Blossom Pageant, golf tournament, apple-pie baking contest, disco dance party, prayer brunch, business luncheon, Ladies’ Horticultural Luncheon, Stag Luncheon, Coronation of Queen Shenandoah, kids one mile fun run, fire fighters parade, fireworks display, 80’s dance, Queen’s Ball, sports breakfast, 10k race, the Grand Feature Parade, square dance, oldies rock’n’roll dance, kids fun day, bluegrass festival…and that’s not all of it!!!
Every year a Grand Marshal is chosen to lead the parade and this is where the celebrity factor comes into play. Former Grand Marshals have included Bing Crosby, Lucille Ball, Bob Hope, Anson Williams aka Potsy from Happy Days, Robert Wagner, Mary Tyler Moore, Dan Ackroyd, Sean Astin, Larry Hagman, Ponch (!), Val Kilmer and Debbie Reynolds. Last year Mario Lopez took up the Grand Marshal duties and this year 2011 American Idol winner, Scotty McCreery is in charge. ( The name meant nothing to me when I heard it announced – American Idol is not really big on Belgian television !)
Here’s a taste of what to expect from this year’s big cheese…I mean Grand Marshal!
The Apple Blossom Festival would not be complete without a Queen and here again is where as much celebrity as possible is injected into little old Winchester. Former Queens have been daughters of Governors; granddaughters of Presidents; daughters of NFL legends and other sporting superstars; and daughters and granddaughters of actors and actresses.
This year will be the fourth time that a relative of the iconic Michael Landon will serve as our Queen. Two of his daughters and one of his grand daughters have previously had the honour and this year another grand daughter, Rachel Lynn Matthews, will be crowned Queen.
Unsurprisingly apple green and pink are the official colours of the bloom and we even have a dedicated Apple Blossom store where one can immerse oneself in a sea of hot pink and apple green – the girls loved it and chose a very bright pink and green flag emblazoned with the word “Bloom” which is now fluttering from our flag pole. Many of the houses in Winchester are currently sporting some little piece of bloom bling – a flag (think the Irish flag but with a pink stripe in place of the orange), some softly draped bunting, a tasteful floral arrangement on the letter box – and all the gardens are looking pretty spectacular.
And so this week we will experience for the first time the “grandeur” that is the Apple Blossom Festival. Those of you that know my husband well, will not be surprised by the news that he is approaching the bloom with as much enthusiasm as would be mustered for a tooth extraction. I, on the other hand, am doing my very best to get my Bloom on. This involved insisting Richard accept his invite to the Bloom Business Luncheon, promising to be his plus one and finding myself a suitably pink and green outfit to wear. The girls will get their bloom on when we go and watch the coronation of the Queen and then Olive is going to take part in the kids Bloomin’ Mile race. Richard very conveniently shifted into new offices this weekend, which happen to sit right on the parade route, so we are hoping for a great view of … well to be honest I’m not quite sure, but I thinks it’s safe to say there will be apples, blossoms, tiaras, lots of pink and green…
When we talk to people about Apple Blossom we get a whole range of responses – from eye rolling, to being told to leave town if possible, to enthusiastic gushes about how beautiful it is and how much the girls will enjoy it, to my favourite thus far – upon striking up a conversation with a resident of his new work neighbourhood, Richard was told that the bloom is “Winchester’s gift to West Virginia” – I’ll leave you to make of that what you will!
Check back in at the end of the week for my Bloomin’ Update!!
Take care everyone xxx