Reynolds: Mysteries of May Day in Sherwood and beyond
From the time of Robin Hood being documented in 1370 to today, 650 years have passed in our world.
In early accounts, Robin Hood was a patron of the lower class, devoted to Virgin Mary, and a champion for women. He was not keen on organized religion and was a fugitive from the perpetual dragnet of the Sheriff of Nottingham. Little John, Much the Miller's Son and Will Scarlet were the early principals of the Merry Men. Maid Marian and Friar Tuck did not appear until the end of the 15th century.
Robin Hood was a stanch supporter and a contemporary of Richard the Lionheart from the late 12th century. When Richard went to the third crusade to marshal the troops, Richard's brother John took over the realm. The brothers were opposites in every way, and King John was cruel to his subjects. Robin Hood was driven to being an outlaw during the rule of this king, and much was made of this time of "misrule" and the world being turned upside down.
During the Middle Ages, a lover's rite of spring, Landamas Day, was celebrated in England and France. This was a time for song, dancing and wooing games. This festival morphed into another holiday in 1475 called May Day. Robin Hood tales and ballads were folded into the merrymaking. This is when Friar Tuck and Maid Marian were introduced.
Revelers dressed the parts of many characters of a series of plays. Robin Hood was always "The May King."
There were parades and a May Pole dance. Many times, the proceeds of these festivals went to the church.
In 1492, the Merry Men were so riotous at a festival that they were all jailed and brought to court. The men defended themselves on the grounds that their petty thievery and crazy behavior was a longstanding custom used to raise money for the churches.
By Dec. 17, 1948, the Sherwood Merry Men troupes were ready to start their parade season. There were several meetings, which were followed by an event. The Forest Grove Christmas Parade was a favorite for everyone.
Besides the people mentioned in my last article in July, more people joined. Tom Lusk, Herb Dahlke, Herb Frank, Larry Smith, Doc Pennington, Ray Taylor, C. H. Woodhouse, Allen Fisher and Keith Hockersmith marched in their green dyed skivvies and tunics. Again there was lots of mayhem as they marched along with bows and arrows shot in the air and pleas for handouts for the poor.
There was another parade Jan. 28, 1949, with Merry Men William Speaks, Al Oberst, Montie Brickell, Morris Adair, Fred Anderson, and Walt Bowen. On Feb. 25, 1949, some younger men joined in an out-of-town festival. They were Leland Moore, Joe Taylor and James Ferry. Between March 25 and July 9, 1949, U. D. Jones, L. Vanvicke, Herbert Hotz, George Stiles, Diamens Beehler and Art Tooze joined in.
These small appearances were all used for advertising the Sherwood community.
July 21, 1949, was the Newberg "Berrian Festival." New marching members were Jack Mortimer, Louis Schulz, Oliver Colman, Paul Gitchell, Jack Buhler and Henry Christensen. Four "old-timers" were also made honoree members: Pop Howard, Art Kirkham, Roy Mangus, and Ormand Bean.
The Sherwood Merry Men play-acted out the "robbing the rich to give to the poor" play and had many sight gags. The Dahlke brothers who managed the Feed and Seed Store on First Street next to the Rolich Building conducted archery lessons in the alley in back of the store. Clarence Woody Woodhouse became the first Robin Hood during the summer of 1949.
The May Day ritual in the predominantly agricultural area of Sherwood was appealing to the new Sherwood Union High School student body.
Tigard and Newberg High, which graduated many of the older Sherwood kids, both had a May Day Festival. The first year, of 1936-1937, the school was just getting organized into their new traditions. They became a "Kingdom," and the students were all "Kings" and "Queens." (However, their newspaper and annual characterized them as the "Bulldogs.")
By the spring of 1938, the student body put on their first May Day with a May Pole dance, crowning of the King and Queen, a flower arch procession to the front of the school, athletic events, and a dance. Although this was not related to the Robin Hood traditions, it was a spring warm-up to the future summer festival.
From 1938 to 1982, Sherwood High continued the May Day tradition. Sometimes it was held on May 1, or sometimes just scheduled in May. In 1982, there was a whole May Week with all of the above activities, including a Coke chug and a pie-eating contest. The seniors won most of the event points, but the faculty came in second.
After 1982, there is no mention of the May Day tradition being held at Sherwood High School. This author is in complete speculation over this. Could it possibly be that the Socialist and Communist factions who chose May Day as an International Worker's Day in 1889 have something to do with the wet blanket on May Day, or "Red Root," labor traditions? Or, could it be that people objected to the "Green Root" (or pagan) theme of May Day?
I asked a teacher of the 1980s and she thought it had more to do with the girls' feelings over Women's Liberation, since the girls didn't want to do the Maypole dance anymore.
As of July 10, the Sherwood History Center is still closed due to the coronavirus. Our volunteers are still working on the Sherwood Schools exhibit and organizing the collection. Stay tuned to Morback Museum on Facebook for more information.
June Reynolds is a member of the Sherwood Historical Society.
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