You could buy a new Ford for as little as $265. A round-trip ticket on the Union Pacific from St. Joseph to Los Angeles was $72. The new $1 million Methodist Hospital was preparing to open one of the most modern facilities in the country.
The year was 1924, and on April 24 St. Joseph saw its very first Apple Blossom Parade.
James E. Hunt is credited with originating the first festival when he and organizers invited anyone interested to meet at Market Square at 9 a.m. that day. Cars were furnished to drive them to Kenmoor Orchard and then on to Connett Orchard to see the apple trees in bloom. Participants launched at the Hotel Robidoux and then headed off to the orchards near Wathena, Troy, and Blair. The day ended with supper at the Wathena Methodist Church.
From these rather modest beginnings has grown one of this area,s most enduring events, the Apple Blossom Parade and Festival.
It would be two more years before a queen was chosen to reign over the festivities. In 1926 the St. Joseph-Doniphan County Apple Blossom Festival Association made elaborate preparations, with the goal of establishing this area as the leading Jonathan apple district of the world.
Shortly after 11 a.m. on April 29, a procession of 70 cars and floats, band and drum corps, accompanied by a single float drawn by white horses, started at Main and Jule streets, moved through downtown and onward to the Grand Island bridge, which they crossed into Kansas and on to Wathena.
There, St. Joseph Mayor Louis Stigall crowned Miss Eulalie Gabriel of Wathena the first Apple Blossom queen. A crowd of 5,000 then proceeded to consume a large quantity of ham, 600 pounds of beef, 4,500 loaves of bread, and gallons of coffee.
People then visited many Troy orchards, and the evening concluded with dinner at the Troy Methodist Church and a dance at the Troy Opera House.
A 1936 account of the Apple Blossom told of a children’s parade held on Saturday morning, the day after the main parade, which featured hundreds of youth riding bikes, pushing buggies and carts, carrying pets, and adorned in costumes. This event became a popular event.
Early photos of Apple Blossom queens feature each wearing a distinctive crown. According to news reports, the crown was designed by Pollock & Creviston jewelers in St. Joseph for the Air Mail queen to celebrate the 1926 opening of Rosecrans Field. She turned the crown over to the Chamber of Commerce, and for years thereafter it graced the head of local royalty, including the Apple Blossom queen.
For many years the Apple Blossom Festival was held in conjunction with the spring Music Festival, which began in 1918. Both festivals were discontinued in 1940, due to shortages associated with World War II.
The parade resumed in 1946, when the first post-war festival opened at the City Auditorium with the queen coronation and ball. The St. Joseph Cardinals hosted their home opener against Leavenworth. The parade saw 20 floats and nearly as many bands.
In those years following, the parade likely saw its heyday under the continuing sponsorship of the Chamber of Commerce. Names of St. Joseph notables pepper stories about the parade, which continued to command community-wide support.
The 1967 Apple Blossom parade was postponed from Friday to the following Thursday on account of rain. As it turned out, the rain delay may have been an omen. Urban renewal and development in the downtown area, coupled with waning community support, brought the festival to an end.
However, amidst Watergate it finally was revived in 1974, sponsored by the St. Joseph Jaycees. The festival that comeback year featured a laundry list of new events, including a Beer Garden at 2nd and Felix, Pony Express Antique Show at Patee House Museum, a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band concert, a Fort Riley, Kan., First Division band concert, a street dance, a rodeo, and a demolition derby. New that year, too, was a lengthened parade route, which started at Woodbine and traveled west on Frederick to the downtown area. Local high school marching bands did not participate, reportedly due to the longer distance. And, while spectator turnout for the parade was only about 25,000, it marked the festival’s return.
The parade route that year was not the first to vary. Probably most frequently it began at Noyes and Frederick and wound downtown. However, many 1950s parades started at City Hall, where band contests often began early the morning of the parade, ending with the massed bands playing “The Star Spangled Banner” just prior to stepoff for the parade. In 1966 the floats and other rolling units assembled at East Hills Shopping Center and were joined by the marching bands at City Hall. Probably the oddest route on record was that for the 1978 parade. It began at Maple Leaf Parkway and 6th, moved through downtown and up Frederick to disband at Noyes. That parade coincided with the dedication of the new $1 million downtown mall. An omen for the odd parade route and the new mall: It rained on the parade.
Jaycees continued sponsorship of the parade until 1982, when they gave up its operation. Ron Rosenauer, who had worked with the Jaycees for several years and who had ramrodded the event since 1980, took over its management under the auspices of Apple Blossom Parade and Festival, Inc., a non-profit group.
Under his leadership, the parade continued with its good years and its not-so-good years. His death in January 2000 once again threatened the parade. However, thanks to the combined efforts of The St. Joseph Downtown Association, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the City of St. Joseph, Buchanan County, and numerous corporate and business sponsors, the parade continues.
Dozens of accounts of the parades over the years are ample evidence that people of every generation seem to abide by the adage that everyone loves a parade. It is striking at how often superlatives have been used in news accounts to describe the event. Each year is the best, the biggest, the most lavish, the longest. Spectators typically outnumber those of the previous year — or at least they seem to. And the joy and pleasure that the Apple Blossom brings to this community is always unmatched.
Yes, to some the Apple Blossom may be just a parade. To most of us, though, the Apple Blossom is the annual rite of spring, the coming together as a community, the celebration of life for the kid in all of us.