Many cities have annual events, but few have anything as elaborate as what we get going every first week of June. It's 2007 as I write this; the 100th anniversary of Portland's Rose Festival. The Rose Festival involves parades, carnivals, cruise ships, pageants and midair stunt shows, and it's pretty much over in a week, which is way too fast. Once the Rose Festival hits, kids are almost out of school. The minute they DO get out of school, however, it's over.
This page isn't really celebrating the 100th Anniversary, actually. It's celebrating the 25th anniversary of the 75th anniversary. All the details and footage from the 1983 Rose Festival are packed into two VHS tapes in my possession, both recorded in crisp SP (some of this footage you may have already seen). Let's take a time warp!
Local news legend Richard Ross is here, as well as Kim Gilbert's hair, and Kim Gilbert. Lisa Stark, now working for ABC News, narrates the history of the Rose Festival. What she doesn't mention is that, though the Festival as we know it began in 1907, it has roots dating back to 1889. Mrs. Pittock, of the mansion by the same name, held a rose-growing contest every spring starting in that year. Then they just started adding things to it. TAKE IT LISA:
Preparation takes months, but the Rose Festival does not officially start until the night of the Queen's Coronation, where a female monarch must be selected as the Queen of Rosaria, and only on her say can the festivities truly begin. She's selected from among twelve princesses, one girl from each high school around the area. The princesses themselves are selected from a gang of each school's hopefuls one at a time. The whole process starts in February and ends at the Coronation.
The 1983 Coronation was hosted by Mary Starrett in her pre-political-psycho stage, and the recently retired Ron Carlson. Margie Boule was the master of ceremonies, a job she had held for several years at this point--sometimes she even sang. She didn't try singing in 1983.
But other than the throat of Boule, the Coronation hasn't changed at all in 25 years. Each one has played out in exactly the same way...the MC introduces the first girl, who walks onto the stage and prepares a speech. While she's doing that, clips are broadcast of all the volunteer work the girl does. The selected princesses are always people involved with charities or rescue missions--you have to be a real saint to get on that stage. It's just as well, because every princess gets a college scholarship.
The girl gives her speech, usually vaguely tied in to that year's Rose Festival slogan theme. Each year is given a different slogan like "Discover Your Dreams," "Feast On Life's Joy," or the only one I remember right now, "Something Spectacular." So your typical speech is, "It was SOMETHING SPECTACULAR when I found that injured baby endangered sea lion, performed emergency heart surgery on it, and nursed it back to health with my own breast milk!" Applause, then the girl walks to the side and the next girl comes out, and everything starts over. And repeats eleven more times. By the way, if you didn't know, not many guys are into watching this special.
The judges make their decisions based on the speeches, and the girls are grouped together. Once the winner is announced, it's required by federal law that every other girl scream "EEEEEEEEEEEE!!!", surround and trample that winner to death. The new queen is given a gold-plated scepter she gets to keep, a tiara she has to return, and with her next words declares the Rose Festival officially open.
That's the way it was in 1983 and the way it will always be, though in recent years there have been idiots with too much power who have tried to interfere in the name of political correctness. There used to be a set of junior princesses selected from elementary schools, but someone nixed that. They also tried renaming the princesses "Ambassadors" and introducing a coronation for princes, but neither decision was popular and was reversed later.
While no one succeeded in destroying Rosaria, they did manage to downgrade its power. The coronation is no longer televised, and according to the schedule on rosefestival.org, this year's crowning happens on the LAST day of the festival. That makes no sense at all.
The Rose Festival shifts into gear! The Fun Center opens in Waterfront Park by the Willamette River, offering lots of amusement park rides and Kaiser-Permanente-Disapproved food! The Fun Center has had one complaint tossed at it from the general public for several years now--the gripe that everything in it costs too much. Rising gas prices or not, there's only so much one will pay for the privilege to eat a hot dog and then throw it back up inside a spinning steel cart.
Large ships also dock in the harbor by the park, offering themselves for tours. No two Festivals have had the same boats, and they've run the range from restored pirate vessels to Navy battleships.
You used to also see planes too. The Portland Airshow ran at this time until a few years ago, and despite its name it was held near Hillsboro. It was mostly a midair stunt show with lots of loop-the-loop acrobatics, and a few of the newest-model jet planes showing off their tricks.
I was only at the Airshow once and I didn't have the best time. My parents were part of the cleanup crew, and though this meant we could get in free, it also meant we had to clean up. I was included in that equation despite being only ten. Since I sunburn so easily, Mom glopped a whole bottle's worth of sunscreen on my face, which I then absentmindledly rubbed into my eyes while straining against the sun to see the airplanes. I spent my time after the show ended stumbling blindly around the area, picking up trash and rubbing my painful eye area even further in a misguided effort to make it better. That day was awful, but at least I got to see a Harrier float in midair.
And parades, parades, do we ever have parades.
The Grand Floral Parade is the largest, and the capper of the whole Festival. The "Floral" portion of the name is not just for show; each float must be covered entirely in formerly-living plant material. A certain airline corporation wants us to start calling this the "Southwest Airlines Grand Floral Parade," but it's not gonna happen. A different airline sponsored the 1983 one, the now-extinct PSA. (Although that stood for "Pacific Southwest Airlines," they're not the same company.)
Yes, they really did paint smiles on those planes.
The Grand Floral is full of typical parade fare like floats, marching bands from high schools, people on horseback representing rural areas of Oregon, and government officials waving from white convertibles...and atypical entries like the famous One More Time Around Again Marching Band, the largest marching band of its kind in the US. The band is made up of over 500 instrument-players! The march stretches for blocks, and they only play one song every year: "Louie Louie."
"Louie Louie" was recorded in Portland. In a cramped room and with a microphone set so high that the band practically had to shout to be heard. Explain a few things?
Some floats win awards, but there are so many of them given out--"Judge's Award," "Most Creative Award," "Best Use of Ground-Up Crysanthemums Award"--that nearly all of them win something. The grand prize winner in 1983 went to Ma Bell in one of her last victories. And despite what it looks like, PSA's Disney-themed float isn't bootleg. They got proper permission.
You can choose to watch the Grand Floral Parade on TV, but only true Portlanders brave the rain to be there in person. If you only see it on TV, you'll miss things cut out for commercials and the sake of taste, like the costumed horse poop scoopers. I've seen Pooperman, Little Bo Poop and Winnie the Poop, and that's just the beginning.
There's another parade just like the Grand Floral Parade...only it's at night!
The Starlight Parade was not on the 1983 tape, but I had the 1997 version, so just pretend it's '83.
The only real difference between the Grand Floral and Starlight Parades, besides the lack of sunlight, is the Starlight Parade is allowed to have floats NOT made of flowers. There's that...and then there's the Starlight RUN!
The Starlight Run is a semi-marathon that takes place along the parade route before the parade begins. Anyone can enter to compete, and the best part is that the Starlight Run allows costumes.
There's one more. The Junior Parade is for the children, and takes place in the middle of the Festival, meaning the middle of the week. Meaning they always have a parade for kids when the kids are supposed to be in school.
Take a look: every kid you see here is ditching. As Lisa Stark said, during World War I a few children started a parade of their own when the real ones were disappointingly cancelled. Word spread easily when neightborhoods weren't as isolated, and more kids wanted in the parade every year. It was not an official part of the Rose Festival until the 1930's, when it got huge enough for the Rosarians to just shrug and say "Okay." There's been a Junior Parade ever since, and the rules are as anarchist as the hooky-playing participants are: the only requirement to march in the parade is to be a kid and show up.
Television coverage of a Junior Parade is rare. In 1983 it was broadcast on public cable access, and the amateur announcer says this was the first one the station attempted, so perhaps this was the first one ever shown on TV. Nevertheless, the Junior Parade gets respectable treatment. It may not have anything as huge as the One More Time Around Again Marching Band, but Portland's current mayor always makes sure to head the parade, and there is always a cartoon character serving as the Grand Marshal. In 2007 it's Jimmy Neutron; in 1983 it was Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
Chuck E. Cheese also attended, but the most popular star of the 1983 Junior Parade was Darth Vader by far. About fifty kids surrounded the Sith Lord at all times. They had it made; they could go to any theater and see Return of the Jedi, and some were even drive-ins.
You see a lot of adorable things at the Junior Parade. A little girl dressed as a boat doesn't happen on Halloween or even during the Starlight Run. Some efforts were impressive for their age bracket--you see the shuttle? Its exhaust actually blew steam. I want to know how he pulled that off.
|But what I really want to know is: who was THIS kid's mother??|
I hope it wasn't the woman who
turned out to be filming the whole thing...
FUTURE SCHOOL BOARD CHAIRMAN DIANE LINN! IT WAS HER THE WHOLE TIME!
After the Grand Floral Parade
ends, the Rose Festival just kind of fades away. The Fun Center
shuts down and folds up the next morning, and that's all anyone
gets until next year. But before then, it's a fun and crazy week
that also includes the
Little Britches Rodeo oh
wait, that's gone too. BUT, there's always the Milk
Carton Raft Races shoot. I never realized how much of
the Rose Festival had been eliminated in the present day until I
examined one from 25 years ago.
The Rose Festival is something I've always taken for granted, but now that I think about it, there aren't many communities in the US that have an annual celebration on the Rose Festival scale; not even many major cities. The slow degradation of events is worrisome; if apathy grows, I could see this someday existing as nothing but the Grand Floral Parade. Maybe they just need more interesting events to replace the ones that don't make money; I never knew a kid that went to the Little Britches Rodeo. Ditching school is fun, but ditching it to be thrown by a horse is not fun.
I'd like to see this live to a 125th birthday. Anyone got any new ideas?
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