Celebrating the past: Jubilees

April 22, 2010

Ho, all ye pioneers, and all ye sirens sing,
Come old and young and middle-aged, and make the welkin ring,
And let us have a Jubilee and all old-timers bring,
For Yakima is great to-day, and Irrigation king.

— from the program for the 25th anniversary celebration of the founding of Yakima, Jan. 15, 1910

Men grew beards as part of the celebration of Yakima's Diamond Jubilee. Those growing beards included (l-r) Marvin K. Powell, Ernest T. Noel, Gene Cady, Haskell Hutton, Tom Durrett, Don Dwinell and Red Heneghen. The photo was taken June 24, 1960.

Parades — stretching for miles.
Pageantry — plumed hats, pioneer dresses, parasols and petticoats.
Performances — casts of hundreds, hand-sewn period costumes, historical scripts.
There was nothing quite like a Yakima Jubilee.

Every 25 years, beginning in 1910, the entire town of Yakima put on the dog (or at least old-time clothing) to celebrate Yakima’s official founding.

During jubilees, people commemorated the town’s January 1885 origin with speeches, parades, dramas, beard-growing contests and queen coronations.

Following 1910’s Silver Jubilee came the Golden in 1935, the Diamond in 1960 and the Centennial in 1985.

“All the jubilees did their own thing, and they were all pretty prominent,” said John Baule, Yakima Valley Museum director.

A parade is shown in this photo from Yakima's Golden Jubilee celebration in 1935.

Prominent, yes, but there’s slight disagreement over which one was the jubilee to end all jubilees.

Happy quasquicentennial!

A mouthful, yes, but it’s just another way of celebrating Yakima’s birthday, 125 years later.

This year’s jubilee is still in the planning stages, but so far several prominent events are scheduled.

The first is “Yakima’s Anniversary Celebrations,” an exhibit at the Yakima Valley Museum running now through the end of the year. A video of the 1935 Jubilee parade runs continuously in the lobby.

Memorabilia, such as commemorative buttons, wooden and gold coins, plates, programs, mugs, caps and Frisbees, all created for a past jubilee, fill a display case.

The next planned event will take place during the Sunfair Parade in September, says Joe Mann, a member of the parade board.

“We’re going to make it a special heritage parade in commemoration of 125 years,” he explains, adding that an award will be given for the best pioneer-themed entry.

A lasting commemoration also is being devised for later this year, says John Baule, Yakima Valley Museum director.

“The Light Project (a collaboration among nine local arts organizations) is discussing something that would be a permanent recognition of the founding,” Baule explains.

That might include installing a fountain or other structure at the museum or at Allied Arts.

Finally, at the end of the year, Yakima’s grand old age will be recognized at the city’s New Year’s Eve celebration, which will be dedicated to the anniversary of the city’s founding.

Memories have faded a bit on the Silver; it was, after all, 100 years ago. But both the 1935 and 1960 celebrations have their advocates, as viewed through historical perspective.

Baule thinks the 1935 extravaganza couldn’t be topped. “People absolutely packed the downtown,” he explained, judging from films.

But Joe Mann, a member of the Sunfair Parade board, is certain the 1960 Jubilee was the one to beat, from stories he’s heard. “There was a committee of 100 people planning the 1960 one,” he noted.

No doubt the coldest, the Silver Jubilee was celebrated Jan. 15, 1910, with a rather modest parade from Third Street and Yakima Avenue to the railroad depot on Front Street, where a brass band played. A program on the history of the Valley lasted several hours, followed by entertainment and dancing (a quadrille).

The 1935 celebration was a much more lavish affair. “Frontier Days,” as that jubilee was called, drew tens of thousands of observers to watch three parades on May 17, 18 and 19, each stretching five miles down Yakima Avenue.
Leon Rightmire was 9 years old when he stood along the 1935 parade route with his mother, Anna, as horse- and oxen-drawn wagons, stage coaches, covered wagons and horseback riders — even floats that looked like wooden sheds — rambled past.

“We were out there a long time,” Rightmire recalled. But it was exciting, he said.

His father, Leon Sr., who was one of four jubilee organizers, rode his horse all the way in from a ranch in Cowiche to participate in the parade.

Subsequent events took place at the fairgrounds, where Yakama Chief Jobe Charley made Leon Sr. an honorary chief.

One bit of jubilee lore revolved around J. Hugh King, fairground manager. “I can’t swear to it,” Rightmire admitted, “but it was reported that Hugh King rode his horse into the lobby of the Commercial Hotel (on Yakima Avenue) during the jubilee.”

The eight-day 1960 Diamond Jubilee was no wallflower. Five parades  over five days in June thrilled 25,000 spectators. People dressed in pioneer garb, even children at school. Perhaps most spectacularly, the Span-A-Rama production involved a cast of nearly 800 who performed the history of Yakima.

Beard-growing contests, fashion shows and the burying of a historic vault under a sidewalk at City Hall were highlights, as was Lee Miner, of Miner’s Drive-In Restaurant, sporting his grandfather’s beaver top hat.
Yakima’s most recent jubilee, over several days in June 1985, began with “Our heritage on the Move” centennial parade.

A tribute to the founders of North Yakima followed at the fairgrounds, featuring demonstrations on blacksmithing and goat milking, with a carnival and fireworks capping off the first 100 years of Yakima.

By JANE GARGAS

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