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Ringing in the fun at 71

Have you caught it yet? There’s a new bug making the rounds and there is only one cure—the color red! Red Flannel fever hits about this time every year and doesn’t subside until we fill our prescription—a fun-filled Red Flannel Day!

The annual festival that made Cedar Springs a national name has its roots in the 1930s.

The annual Red Flannel Festival in Cedar Springs brings thousands of people to the event that now spans two weekends—the last weekend in September and the first weekend in October.

It all began in 1936 in the midst of “the worst winter in years.” The entire country suffered in the grip of heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures. A New York Sun feature writer bemoaned the “fact” that even though the country was in the midst of an old-fashioned winter, we had no old-fashioned red flannel underwear to go with it—jumping to the conclusion that they were obsolete in the USA.

The local newspaper, The Cedar Springs Clipper, owned and edited by “The Clipper Gals,” Nina Babcock and Grace Hamilton, answered the writer with a red hot editorial explaining that, “…Who but a New Yorker would conclude that there are no Red Flannels just because Sak’s Fifth Avenue doesn’t wrap ‘em up for their clients? Don’t write off us lumberjacks yet; we’ve got plenty of red flannels in Cedar Springs.”

The story was picked up by the Associated Press and orders began pouring in from all over the United States for warm red flannels. Seeing the possibility of at least a few years of publicity because of our famous “drop-seaters” and lumbering history, Cedar Springs was tagged as “Red Flannel Town” and a festival was planned for the fall of 1939. A reporter for the Grand Rapids Press wrote, “Grandpa’s drawers may have blushed unseen, but Red Flannels faced the world in all their flaming glory today. It was Cedar Springs’ first Red Flannel Festival, celebrating the fame of the town that proved New York neither had nor knew everything.”

According to The Cedar Springs Story, by Sue Harrison and Donna DeJonge, a Cedar Springs Red Flannel Club was formed in 1940. Directors were chosen from those people actively involved in business in Cedar Springs. The purpose of the club was to promote the tourist and resort business of Cedar Springs by an annual Red Flannel Festival; to promote Cedar Springs as the Red Flannel Capital of the World; and to “foster the inherent dignity of the old-fashioned custom of wearing red flannel underwear and to protect the wearer’s from crude jokes and ridicule of the unlearned.”

The festivals continued until 1942, when the government asked that those types of things not be done during wartime. They didn’t resume until 1947, meaning there was five years without a Red Flannel Day celebration.

In 1949, a staff photographer for Life magazine took photos for a feature on Red Flannel Day. One of the photos was of an old-time photographer dressed in long johns (Jack Pollock) taking photos of school children in red flannels. It ran in the magazine on December 19, 1949, on page 55. The photo currently hangs in the Cedar Springs Historical Museum.

After the closure of the Red Flannel Factory in 1994, the citizens became concerned about the fate of their beloved Red Flannels and the Red Flannel Festival. Due to the love of their community legacy, volunteers rallied together to keep the Red Flannel tradition alive. The production of Red Flannel garments has since been reestablished and they are now available to purchase again at the Cedar Chest in downtown Cedar Springs.

The Red Flannel Festival has continued to be an annual event held the last weekend in September and first weekend in October, making it one of the oldest continuous festivals in the State of Michigan.

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