WWI almost ended Portland's Rose Festival tradition
One hundred years ago, the Rose Festival almost died, fresh out of World War I.
The Rose Festival had been cancelled in 1918 because of the Great War, but the city of Portland had promised to bring it back.
But, on Jan. 1, 1919, the city cut funding to the event. An appropriation of $32,600 for the Rose Festival had been promised, but a taxpayer coalition gave unanimous approval to a projected $200,000 appropriation for the new county hospital and favored eliminating the backing of the Rose Festival.
"It looked like the Rose Festival was going to be cancelled," says Marilyn Clint, the Rose Festival chief operating officer, who has done extensive research on the 1919 Rose Festival.
"But, by February, planners had turned it into a 'Victory Festival,' making the parade a 'Victory Parade' and making the queen 'Miss Victory' (aka 'Goddess of Victory')."
Organizers played to the hearts and mind of folks fresh out of world conflict and pride in the United States.
And, it worked.
"They rebranded the whole thing and got people excited, and the first business to publicly give money was Meier & Frank, $500 (on Jan. 5, 1919)," Clint adds. "The next thing you knew they were raising funds and the Rose Festival went on. ... All the debts were paid, with $163 left over," as about $32,000 had been raised for the event.
The Rose Festival added "carnival shows" in 1919, whether they be professional or by local talent, and it would include the largest Ferris wheel ever on the Pacific coast.
About 11,000 men who left Portland for military service would be presented with medals during Rose Festival.
A theme of "Victory Crowned, Rose Renowned" came out.
On May 4, 1919, it was reported that the Grand Floral Parade would be the biggest one, yet, with the most novel automobile and floral parade in festival history.
It grew so big that 200 tents had to be erected near the business districts, sleeping accommodations had to be used on boats anchored in the harbor and the city asked citizens to use at least one room in their homes for visitors.
On June 6, Gov. Ben W. Olcott issued a proclamation setting aside Thursday, June 12, as a day to celebrate the festivities — not a legal holiday, but a personal appeal to employers of returned soldiers to give them a holiday.
U.S. Navy Admiral William Fullam attended the festival.
The victory and industrial parade was held on June 11, a military parade on June 12 and the Grand Floral Parade on June 13. "A drenching shower at the start of the parade gave way to some sun during the latter part," festival archives state. "Umbrellas, however, were needed."
While pictures are few, there is video of the Victory Parade on YouTube.
"For me, the story is really about how people were able to be ingenious about how to reinvent the Rose Festival after it was gone. It's last another 100 years," Clint says.
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