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The festival—a look back

The festival—a look back

From the Red Flannel Press, the official publication of the Red Flannel Festival

By Nina Babcock

This story was first printed in the Cedar Springs Clipper on October 4, 1977. Nina Babcock and Grace Hamilton owned the newspaper and were instrumental in having our town be known for Red Flannels, and in the creation of the Red Flannel Festival in 1939.

You’ve gone a long way…Red Flannels…a long, long way. None of us  here at the beginning could envision what the years would bring 35 years and more.

When red flannels burst on the scene in our small town, the attention of the news media was focused on us. We had advice from metropolitan papers and nationally circulated magazines.

Their advice was: “You’ve got something there in Cedar Springs. It can mean a lot of publicity for your town. Play it hard for five years, that is about how long it will  last.” Oh, shades of error!

Governor William Milliken gives Nina Babcock an award naming her Ambassador or Michigan tourism. From the book “The Making of a Town—A Historical Journey Through Cedar Springs, Michigan, 1857-1970” by the Cedar Springs Historical Society.

Through the years Cedar Springs and its red flannel drawers have claimed space in such publications as Life, Reader’s Digest, Time, Kansas City Star, International Trail, World, Success Unlimited, newspapers across the country, and on radio and TV. And folks still get a chuckle at the mention of red long johns.

Only five years. How they did miscalculate. Here we are on the eve of another Red Flannel Festival.

Do you recall the early days of the lumberjack supper? Crisp fried salt pork, milk gravy, boiled potatoes, corn bread, applesauce. Those first suppers were served in the Solon Township hall on Main Street, in the building now housing Dykwel’s Store. Lona Knickerbocker and Bill Jamieson prepared the food and served it to hundreds of folks. Some came back for second and third feedings, paying each time. Later it was served at the school auditorium, always to large and hungry crowds. The Lions Club now serves the lumberjack supper with the same fine old-fashioned food.

Many celebrities have been here to participate in Red Flannel activities. Governor G. Mennen (Soapy) Williams came to crown one of our queens and to stay for the square dance in the Streeter Garage on Main Street. The Governor called the dance, and took turns tripping the light fantastic.

Governor William Milliken has been here. U.S. Senator Homer Ferguson enjoyed the fun of Red Flannel Day. An editor of the Chicago Sun Times, Nat Laddin, crowned one of our queens, as did Benny McCoy, of baseball fame.

There was Newaygo Newt, Poet Laureate of Michigan, who came as queen crowner and also put on a spitting contest on Main Street. He had the contestants all lined up and ready to perform when the fire siren blew. Newt’s audience vanished in pursuit of the fire engine, which went north along Main Street then east a block, where Chic Sales (outhouse) was on fire. It was generally believed that the fire was set by some of our hyperactive boys who thought it fit for the red flannel setting.

Congressman Gerald Ford was always with us on this day, through his long tenure in the House of Representatives, He did not disappoint us the day after he was named Vice President. He had said he would be with us, and he was. Before another Red Flannel Day he had become President of the United States.

I recall the time Life magazine came to Cedar Springs. The editorial offices in New York advised us that they wanted to see the town in red when the photographers came. Well, they saw nothing but red. Hundreds of our folks came out in brilliant red. The event was of intense interest to all of us. Life magazine came out with a double spread of color from Cedar Springs.

Yes, folks, our town has gone a long way with red flannels. It’s good to look back and recall, but it is better to keep our sights on today and the future, Red Flannel Day 1977.

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