Soaring at 70 and beyond
By Judy Reed
Red Flannel festival-goers will celebrate the 70th anniversary this year of the first Red Flannel Festival, held in Cedar Springs on November 11, 1939.
That first festival was full of fun and exciting lumberjack-themed events, including a Red Flannel clothesline race, a wood piling contest, and a horse-shoe pitching contest. There was even a spittin’ contest. The spittin’ contest was for the regional championship, and the world-championship was at East Jordan the following spring. The Cedar Springs Story recorded that Herbert Whiteside, of Sand Lake, won the title with a total of 153 points for expectorating his cud of tobacco into a can on the sidewalk.
The first Red Flannel Queen, Maxine Smith, had been chosen in a pageant at the Kent Theatre days earlier, and was crowned on Red Flannel Day during half-time of the football game between the Red Flanneled Hawks of Cedar Springs, and the Wildcats of Sand Lake.
An account in the Grand Rapids Press of that first event said, “Grandpa’s drawers may have blushed unseen, but Red Flannels faced the world in all of their flaming glory today. It was Cedar Springs first Red Flannel festival, celebrating the fame of the town that New York neither had nor knew everything.”
The festival ran for three years—1939-1941—and then took a break during World War II. The festivals resumed in 1948.
While this year’s Red Flannel Festival won’t include a spitting contest, some of the events are the same as the first year—including a horse shoe contest, getting thrown in jail for not wearing red, and holding the Red Flannel Queen contest in the historic Kent Theatre. Others, such as the Lumberjack dinner, came along later, but have stood the test of time. And new events have continued to be added over the years, finally culminating in a festival that spans two weekends—the last weekend in September and the first weekend in October.
According to Festival president Michele Andres, the board has added 18 new events in the last few years. A new children’s fun run has been added to the 5K this year, and the car show has a new larger area. In keeping with this year’s theme, “Soaring at 70 and beyond,” also new this year is a remote control airplane demonstration, on Saturday, October 3, from 10 am until 2 pm. at North Park. At 1:30 pm the same day the Allegan Skydiving demonstration team will soar over the festivities and land at North Park to join the Remote Control Airplane Show. The skydivers will be available to sign autographs. Also new this year is the 70th Anniversary Fireworks Show, to begin at dusk on Saturday, Oct. 3, at the corner of White Creek Avenue and Solon Road. In case of rain, the show will be held Sunday evening.