• Old-fashioned fun, yesterday and today

    Good Old Days

    By Jon Guthrie

    Exactly one century ago, the excitement began.

    Pacific Grove planned a gala celebration that would mark the community’s heritage, history, and beauty, both natural and human.  A queen would be elected, never mind that queens aren’t normally elected, and she would be called the Queen of May.  Community members could visit various polling places to cast a vote by contributing cash.  The newspaper of the day, Pacific Grove Review, kept track of the voting and posted changing results almost daily.

    Seven lovely young ladies were in the running for the queenship: Rowena Cook, Charlotte Hanson, Alice Beberton, Iva Cooley, Vera Smith, Alto Jenkins, and Elizabeth Valper.  Ms Rowena Cook led the race … with 66.8 percent of voters favoring this young lady.  Ms. Elizabeth Valper held tight to last place with a paltry 4.1 tally.  Ms. Cook was destined to maintain her lead.  A week later, she was crowned the May Queen.

    To augment the queenly contest, Pacific Grove arranged for a few of those new-fangled automobiles to be displayed and for a parade to march down Lighthouse Avenue.  The event would be kicked off from a lectern placed on the front steps of the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History.  A bevy of well-known Grovians appeared for the inauguration: the Johnston brothers, J. P. Campbell, Jack Wright, Miss Alta Jenkins, Violet Maya Neill (who would live only two months longer).

    Almost as an afterthought, a reporter writing without byline penned a column named “Good Old Days” … which would become of historical significance 60 years later.

    On the agenda for the first (1969) Good Old Days were a pancake breakfast, a wildflower show, a quilt show, a Victorian fashion show, a pie-eating contest, music, and theatrical events.  Readings were also offered from the works of 19th century author Charles Dickens.

    During the fading days of 1968, Mrs. Frits Winblad-a Pacific Grove historian who bragged of having read more than 4,000 books-got an idea.  Why not sponsor an annual artistic and commemoratory event that would be called the Pageant of Paintings.  This event would be to promote art, of course, but also Pacific Grove.  A small group gathered to discuss the possibility.

    Erma Dinkel, representing the Pacific Grove Chamber of Commerce, put on her thinking cap.  She recalled that earlier celebrations of the Grove’s heritage had been for the purpose of raising funds.  She knew, too, that annual tours of Victorian Homes and displays of old cars served the same purpose.  Why not establish another annual event, helping raise funds for the Chamber of Commerce as well as attracting visitors to the Grove.

    “However … Pageant of Paintings is too narrow a name.  We can call this activity … well, why not Good Old Days?” Ms. Winblad said to the group.

    The group said back: Done!”

    Activities in that 1969 “Good Old Days” weekend included a doll show, a Victorian tea held at the community center, and a display of art provided by the Pacific Grove Art Association, which was opening its new clubhouse.  Old car owners numbering 80 were invited.  The Jaycettes sponsored this event (and others) along downtown Lighthouse Avenue.  Merchants set up booths and opened for business.  Members appeared in Victorian costumes.

    More than 6,000 visitors poured into Pacific Grove to take full advantage of all the fun.

    “Good Old Days” as celebrated in 1969, recognized three of the Peninsula’s best-known artists: S.F.B. Morse (founder of Pebble Beach), Bennett Bradbury, and James Riley Stevenson.

    Forty years later, Good Old Days continues to attract thousands of visitors to Pacific Grove.  A queen is no longer chosen through “paid” votes, but the overall ambiance remains unchanged.  Whatever your pleasure, you’re certain to find it here.  It’s the Good Old Days in contemporary format with lots of Victorian costumes, vendor booths, open houses, displays, old cars … and old fashioned camaraderie.

    To see pictures of this year’s celebration, check out our gallery of images.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on April 9, 2009

    Topics: Current Edition, Features

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