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Salem's Cherry Festival
 

It was a gala occasion back in 1903 when the Salem Elks lodge sponsored a three-day celebration that was Salem's first Cherry Fair. A festive air permea-ted the town as industrial displays and exhibits decked the sides of Court Street, games and contests were conducted at the State Fairgrounds, a floral parade unfolded, and boat races streaked the surface of the Willamette.

Mrs. B.O. Schucking, then Agnes Gilbert, was the first queen who, with three princesses and two train bearers, completed the Royal Court. An automobile bedecked in cherry branches carried the royal party complete with parasols to Willson Park where the coronation took place. The late Henry W. Meyers placed the gold crown set in rubies and rhinestones on the head of the Queen and presented her with the key to the city.

In 1906, some of the first spirit of the affair was altered as the event became more of educational undertaking than a celebration. For, in that year, the Fair was timed in conjunction with the midsummer meeting of the Oregon Horticultural Society, which resulted in only a few exhibits and cup awards for premiums. Salem became known as the "Cherry City" as a result of the outstanding exhibits at the Cherry Fair held July, 1907.

Arranged by the Marion County Horticultural Society, this fair was held in connection with the fifth annual convention of the Pacific Coast Association of Nurserymen. It was these men who, after viewing the cherry exhibit, passed a resolution declaring it to be "the greatest and finest display of cherries known in history" and by unanimous vote christened Salem the Cherry City.

The Salem Board of Trade arranged the Cherry Fair held in 1908, having more of a festive spirit intro-duced than in the previous year with a street carnival held at the same time. The three-day events included baseball games (the Senators), floats, band concerts and singing on electric cars, fireworks, a military pa-rade and competitive drill, a reception, a Grand Cherry Ball, and a fun Mardi Gras.

A baby parade was added to the agenda in 1911, and Marion Square became the pivot for all activity. The Salem Board of Trade presented its last festival in 1912. All of the previous fun-making was contin-ued that year, with the addition of more night musical events.

After the Salem Cherrians were organized in 1913, they were appointed the task of producing the annual festival, which they did in the few years just preced-ing the First World War. Except for a smaller fair held in 1922 as a hospital fund benefit, the Cherry Festival disappeared from the calendar but not the memory of Salem citizenry.

Then came the great rebirth of the custom which was once so closely associated with Salem. In 1947, the Salem Cherryland Festival Association was formed, and the wheel of local history rolled full circle. Sa-lem's summer season was complete again with a festive, colorful Cherryland Festival. Queen Martha DuRette of Gervais ruled that first event in the second series with a court of ten princesses. In 1948, the royal court was changed from eleven girls to nine and, in1949, the court was reduced to five.

As the blooms appear in the central Willamette Valley around Salem elating caravans of visitors come to enjoy the three-day festival. This is the time the Cher-rians too, blossom out in uniforms to greet their guests. Everybody loves a parade and, in 1947, a Grand Parade was held at 10:00 a.m. sharp with floats and high school bands. The following day, a Children's Parade took place with lots of prizes and free ice cream.

Included in the program for the three-day event was a Horse Show, Cherryland pageants, Air Show, and a Statewide Drill Team contest (drum and bugle corps). A magnificent trophy, donated personally by Governor Douglas McKay, was awar-ded to the best organization appearing in the annual statewide drill team contest, a feature of the Cherry-land festival.

After the 1950 festival, there is no record of when they ceased to exist, but those who participated or attended the festivities will have fond memories of them.

Compiled by Shirley Herrmann

Bibliography:
Statesman Journal newspaper, Life section - Sunday January 12, 1969

History of Salem Cherry Festivals, Magee, Margaret, brochure, Salem Public Library, 1950

 

 
Additional Links
 
 
Bowl of Cherries float
A bowl of Cherries float, 1949
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Frist royal court, 1903
Queen Agnes I (Mrs. B. O. Schucking) and the Royal Court. Salem's First Cherry Festival in 1903
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Cherrians by royal float
Salem Cherry Fair parade in 1916. Cherrians in white stand by the queen's chariot.
[ View Image ]



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