Thursday, June 16, 2011

1937 West Tennessee Sweet Potato Festival - Dresden TN

Before there was a Tennessee Iris Festival, Dresden hosted the West Tennessee Sweet Potato Festival September 22-24, 1937 - "The First Event of Its Kind in History of Nation" according to the front cover of the program!  Charles Harrell Moran was on the Board of Directors and held the position of Chairman for this event.  Why a sweet potato festival?  Because at that time Weakley County Tn was the second largest grower of sweet potatoes in the United States!  There's also another post and a letter from George Washington Carver wishing Charles Moran every success on the Festival.

1937 Dresden Sweet Potato Festival
   use the scroll bar to the right to view the entire program.

Honored guest speakers included Memphis Mayor Watkins Overton, Tennessee Governor Gordon Browning, and others.  The Festival included a horse show, beauty revue, Queen's Ball, Grand Float Parade and more!

Here is the official press release and program sheet for the Festival:

News Matter for immediate release.
With Mayor Overton of Memphis having accepted an invitation to be the honor guest of the West Tennessee Sweet Potato Festival to be held in Dresden on Sept. 22-24, and with plans complete for the various forms of amusement and entertainment, the committee in charge feels that the public can now be assured an event of more than the usual character.

A resume of the three days features follows:

First Day, Sept 22 ---1:30 pm band concert; 2 pm grand march to school campus and exhibit hall; 2:30 formal opening of Sweet Potato Festival; welcome address by Edward Maiden, Jr; 2:45; introduction of hostess queen; 3 pm broncho breaking by the Rev. L.M. Real, pastor Greenfield U.S.A. Presbyterian church; 4 p.m. Boy Scout Soap Box Derby, Night session: Annual festival horse show, Tennessee's classics, with $250 in awards.

Second Day; Sept 23: Band Concert by several bands and bugle corps.  Drill by Boy Scouts and Eagle Corps.  Free act on festival grounds; expert and fancy shooting by Herbert Persons, representing Winchester Arms co; 4:30 pm Concert by Swift's Jewel Cowboys; 5:30 pm, address by Mayor Watkins Overton of Memphis and Governor Gordon Browning. 7 pm Concert at school auditorium by Jewel Cowboys.

Third Day: Sept 24; 7:30pm selection and coronation of new queen for West Tennessee who will be the official "Miss Nancy Hall" for 1937-38.  10 pm Festival Queen's hall, high school gym.  Music by Husk O'Hare's Ochestra.

The fact first prize of $25 in case on best grade hamper of sweet potatoes will be awarded is attracting wide-spread attention.  Competition is open to all sweet potato growers of West Tennessee.  The complete premium list follows:
Judging will be done according to score card worked out by Division of Extension and Marketing Service.
Class 1.  For best peck of graded Sweet Potatoes, any variety-- $25.00, $12.00, $7.50, $5.00, $2.50, $1.50, $1.00-By F.A. Nants, Gleason.
Class 2. Best bushel of graded Sweet Potatoes (hamper) any variety--$25.00, $12.00, $7.50, $5.00, $2.50, $1.50, $1.00-By F.A. Nants, Gleason.
Class 3.  Best peck of graded Sweet Potato seed, any variety--$5.00, $4.00, $3.00, $2.00, $1.00.
Class 4.  Best Community Display showing improved method of selecting seed, keeping fields free from disease, practices for maintaining soil fertility--1-2 arrangement, 1-3 educational value, 1-3 display--$25, $12.50, $7.50
Class 5.  Best display of Flowers (as a community or individual, for amateurs only)--$10.00, $5.00.
Prize winning Potatoes will be claimed by the Sweet Potato Festival and will not be returned to the owners.

The Swift Jewel Cowboys appeared in concert on Sept 23 1937 and gave a special night time performance, for a small admission fee, that evening. To get a feel for their music and what people were listening to click on the MP3 link below to hear the Swift Jewel Cowboys in all their glory. My favorite is the Coney Island Washboard, I think it might be the third song that plays.

After the beauty revue came the highly anticipated Queen's Ball with "music by Husk O'Hare, the Genial Gentleman of the Air, and his 10 musicians and entertainers".  According to O'hare's bio in the Festival Program "he once taught Prince of Wales to play drums"!

Here is Husk O'Hare playing Milenberg Joys.

Husk O'Hare & His Footwarmers - Milenberg Joys by kspm0220s

Other items of interest from the festival:

Compliments of the Dr. Pepper Bottling Co, one free Dr. Pepper

Official envelope of the Festival

Official letterhead of the Festival

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