Something to celebrate!
A history of the shenandoah
Eighty Five Festivals ago (no festivals held in honor of the men and women fighting during the WWII years 1942 through 1945), the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival® was born and has become one of the oldest civic celebrations in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In 2007, the Festival celebrated a milestone – its 83rd Anniversary and the 78th Anniversary of one of the largest Firefighters’ Parades in the world; therefore, it was a double Anniversary year.
Each spring the citizens of Winchester unite in preparing for the yearly Festival with an annual clean-up and beautification project followed by draping the city in pink, white and green bunting making the city more presentable to guests and spectators. The citizens of Winchester delight in welcoming everyone to their beautiful historical city and the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival®.
The first Festival was held Saturday May 3, 1924, a one-day celebration. Elizabeth Steck (Arthur) was crowned Queen Shenandoah I. Since that time 82 Queens have reigned over the extravaganza. The first Grand Feature Parade was held prior to the coronation and wound its way through city streets to the fairgrounds off Fairmont Avenue. Following the parade the coronation was held on a dais built at the foot of the stairs of John Handley High School. Entertainment for the Queen, her Court and all those in attendance consisted of eight young ladies performing a program of interpretive dances.
Beginning in 1925, the first of three pageants were professionally produced by the John B. Rogers Production Company and staged on a dais at the fairgrounds. In 1928 the outdoor pageants were moved to the steps and esplanade of John Handley High School with the last outdoor pageant being performed in 1974. Each pageant was a labor of love written, narrated and produced by Dr. Garland Quarles and his staff requiring between 800 to as many as 1200 local school children. The pageant earned a reputation as being one of the most beautiful out-of-door extravaganzas in the nation.
This year, 2012, marks the 80th Anniversary of the Firefighters’ Parade (originally called the Torch Light and Mummers’ Parade). The first Torch Light and Mummers’ Parade stepped off at 8 p.m. Thursday April 18, 1929. Each participating firefighter carried a flaming torch not only to give light but also to achieve a dramatic presentation. The first parades exhibited the finest firefighting equipment, decorated vehicles, marching units, bands and floats. Today, fire and rescue units from many east coast states exhibit pieces of their antique firefighting equipment as well as the latest state-of-the-art equipment. The Firefighters’ Parade is one of the nation’s largest parades of its kind and one of the major attractions of the Festival.
During the 1930s interest in the Festival was declining and profits were in the red; therefore, a decision had to be made whether to continue the Festival or drop it completely. It was at this juncture that Mr. Tom Baldridge was appointed Executive Director of the Festival. Mr. Baldridge was an employee of MGM in the publicity department promoting the careers of young actors. Through his employment he was able to schedule celebrities to appear at the Festival. The advent of movie personalities sparked a renewed interest in the Festival. In 1948, Bing Crosby appeared as Grand Marshal of the Grand Feature Parade followed by celebrities such as Bob Hope, Van Johnson and Howard Keel to name a few of the early celebrities. In more recent years celebrities such as Lucille Ball, Robert Wagner, Mike Douglas, Mary Tyler Moore, Diahann Carroll, Loni Anderson, Dan Aykroyd and Donna Dixon and George Hamilton have served as Grand Marshals.
Celebrities appearing as Firefighters’ Marshals include Dottie West, Kitty Kallen, Tanya Tucker, Jim Ed Brown, Bill Anderson, Marty Stewart to name a few. In 1965 sports celebrities were invited, the first being Jack Dempsey, followed by Sammy Baugh, Whitey Ford, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Darrell Green, Bobby Allison, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Johnny Bench and Jerry West to name a few who have appeared as Sports Marshals.
The 1960s and 1970s are noted for important firsts: the first visit by a United States President, Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1964 for the coronation of his daughter Luci who reigned as Queen Shenandoah XXVII and Susan Ford who was crowned Queen Shenandoah XLVII by her father, United States President Gerald R. Ford. Each sitting U. S. President attended the Festival in support of his daughter’s reign as Queen Shenandoah.
Through the years the average annual attendance has risen to 200,000 spectators and tends to increase with the addition of events which have become very popular and very successful. In 1975 “Sunday in the Park” (now named “Weekend in the Park") was introduced as a new event featuring arts, crafts, live entertainment and age appropriate activities for the entire family. At the same time, in another area of Jim Barnett Park “Yesterday’s Cruisers of Winchester” hosts an antique car show. Attendance at both events is estimated to exceed 200,000.
In keeping with current trends the “Apple Blossom 10K Race” was introduced in 1982. This event attracts between 800 to 1000 runners.
Bluegrass music, which has been a part of the culture of the Shenandoah Valley for generations, was introduced as part of the Festival in 1990. Each year the Bluegrass Festival presents a line-up of great bands. The entertainment begins on Sunday at 10 a.m. and ends at 6 p.m.
The “Pro-Am Golf Tournament" was introduced in 1995 and is very popular event for both male and female golfers. Another event, added in 2000, that remains an immediate sellout is the “Prayer Brunch.” Citizens of the community expressed a desire for an event to give thanks for the bounties that God has bestowed upon us. In 2004 the Festival introduced the “Kids Bloomin’ Mile", a “Firetruck Rodeo” and “Life's a Beach Party.” In 2005 the “Commonwealth Men’s Luncheon” was introduced at the Piccadilly’s Brew Pub & Restaurant reminiscent and complimentary of the current Stag Luncheon.
The Festival is a leader in the development statewide organizations for festivals and special events and has become one of the premier events in the eastern United States. The success of the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival® is the result of committed volunteers working together for the benefit of the community. Without their dedication, support and participation, producing an event of this magnitude would not be possible. The efforts of 1500 volunteers and staff of four full-time professionals bring this Festival to fruition. The first Festival was pulled together in eleven days; however, today work on the next festival begins the next day following the previous.
This year marks the 71st year that members of the Winchester Host Lions Club have coordinated the planning, staging and production of the Grand Feature Parade.
The arrival of spring is reason enough to celebrate, but preparing for this spectacular event has become a labor of love and immense local pride. We will see you at “Apple Blossom Time!”