Thursday, June 13, 2013

Michigan Cherry Season

by Ryan Rooney

Heading into its 87th celebration, the Traverse City Cherry Festival has much to look back on with pride. For the better part of a century the Cherry Festival has attracted admired athletes and celebrities such as hockey legend Gordie Howe and U. S. President Gerald R. Ford. Now, nearly 90 years later, the Cherry Festival is not only a Michigan summer tradition, but a national tradition as well.

Beginning as the Blessing of the Blossoms Festival, what is now known as the National Cherry Festival ignored humble beginnings and grabbed attention of a national audience. In 1926, the festival began with the presentation of a pie made of 5,000 cherries from Hawkins Bakery being presented to President Calvin Coolidge. Just four years later, the festival expanded from a one-day event to cover three consecutive days. With the growing popularity of the three-day celebration, the Michigan Legislature deemed that the year 1931 would be the first celebration of the National Cherry Festival. To mark the landmark year of the cherry, seven U. S. Navy ships of the Great Lakes training fleet anchored along the shore of Traverse City while three companies added in celebration alongside the floats in the parade.

As the host of the National Cherry Festival, Traverse City became a destination for over 100,000 people during the three day celebration. The popularity and attendance continued to grow until the festival organizers suspended the celebration from 1942-1945 in support of the U. S. effort in WWII. After the War, in 1946, the festival committee felt it was too soon after the crisis to celebrate and then in 1947, the Traverse City Centennial celebration took precedence over the Cherry Festival. Therefore, it was not until 1948 that the festival returned. It returned to Traverse City as a two-day celebration and for the first time the festival committee decided that the Cherry Queen must be a local girl. Soon, the popularity of the festival was a much as before the War and the event was expanded to a three-day celebration again in 1950. Nearly fifteen years later, in 1964, the committee passed a vote making the festival a five-day celebration and deeming the week of July 6 "National Cherry Festival Week." Only four years later, the festival became a week-long cherry induced celebration.

With such a great history, there is no reason not to celebrate the cherries of Traverse City. And while not all of us can make it to the Cherry Festival, we can all sit back with a nice slice of cherry pie and a tall glass of cherry lemonade on a beautiful summer day in Michigan.