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Our historic ‘non-event’ has always been hard to remember | Meanderline

It was long after Catholic Sisters planted the first roots of it at their convent at Old Steilacoom up Sound, after immigrants brought first seeds ashore in Victoria and Capt. Gazzam’s wife dropped seeds in fertile Island soil.

It was decades later on a quiet, slow fall day in 1963, a time when folks didn’t take themselves so seriously, that architect John Rudolph dropped into Winslow City Hall to say, “Hi!”

The clerk of the tiny city was buried in state report requests - surveys from all manner of bureaus, committees, departments, offices and agencies. Most went in the wastebasket. “Help yourself to scratch paper, John!”

In “the round file” a Tourist Bureau inquiry tweaked Rudolph’s imagination. Back at his office, he began to ponder. The State Survey asked, “What is your community’s major festival?”

The Strawberry Festival had faded. The Grand Old Fourth was yet to be born. Spokane cheered lilacs; Puyallup, daffodils; Portland, roses; and … John giggled and doodled, “Scotch Broom Festival.”

“When is it held?”

“When broom’s in bloom — often the last Friday in May about 4 p.m.”

“What does it include?”

“We select a Queen and have a parade.”

“Any special events?”

Rudolph was on a roll: “Yes, the Island’s annual Rotary Club vs. Kiwanis Club Tiddlywinks Championship.”

John shared his wit with friends. Then from the post office across the alley from the Winslow Clinic he mailed the survey to Olympia. State officials would surely smile.

The letter was forgotten months later when a Buick with California plates parked at Vern’s Winslow Drug. A family piled out and looked around. Vern saw the visitors then went outside asking, “You look lost. Can I help?”

“Yes. We’re ornamental Scotch broom growers. We grow a purplish variegated hybrid. Heard you have a Scotch Broom Festival today. Brought the kids here to see. When’s it start?”

Vern recalled his friend’s practical joke. He bit his tongue and replied, “Oh, uh, it’s in about an hour. Stick around.” Then he raced to phone: “Hello, John, I think we’ve got a problem!”

An hour later, a police car with siren wailing led a floral flotilla of fiddlers and tiddlers with yellow broom blossoms bursting from tubas, trombones, hats, skirts, shirts and anything with wheels down the middle of Winslow Way to Vern’s where the police stopped all traffic for two minutes of championship tiddling. History does not record who won or who was the first Queen. In 1964, a tradition celebrating light-heartedness and spontaneity began.

In 1965, Bainbridge Review’s Betty Nute, reported on the second almost non-event. The first person seen became “Queen.” Royalty reigned 11 minutes!

United Press International in 1966 sought a lot about the “annual festival that doesn’t much care if it amounts to anything or not.” They caught Rudolph a week later who spilled the broom seeds.

Qualifications are simple — no committees, pins, emblems, slogans, songs, costumes, bands, and cost is hard to beat — it’s free. About the only qualification is to dump Scotch broom at Rudolph’s office. When the time is ripe, he piles the flowering shrubs in a car and starts the parade.

“The parade — sometime last week — lasted 10 minutes,” Rudolph chortled. “A few cars joined the procession and … the first girl that we saw walking along Winslow Way — Rosalind Taylor — was crowned with a garland and named Queen. The festival was an unqualified success. There must have been a throng of a dozen people along the sidewalk,” Rudolph told UPI proudly. Others thought the count “slightly exaggerated!”

Some families have had generations parading in yellow or carrying signs reading “Save Our Scotch (Broom).” The Eddie Rollins Fan Club with “Scotch Broom Prince Eddie” marched one year. The BHS band livened things other years, as did Studerus’s “Kookee Droopee Drill Team,” Richardson’s “Pollination Society” float, a broom-covered “Rocket to the Moon” and a drum major with a six-foot gold baton made from a plumber’s friend. Queens have been 5-year-olds or 85, blond beauties or bald, bearded men.

An Associated Press story in 1984, caught the 17th Fest chairman and loyal Kiwanian, Joel Goller saying, “If the spirit moves the founders, it may unfold this Friday. It’s not like it’s planned or anything. In fact, if there was one criticism of last year’s event, it was that there was too much planning — a whole 20 minutes worth.” Goller added, “Last year’s tiddlywinks results were disputed because Rotarians used weighted tiddlywinks.”

Kiwanians selected Dr. Fred Grimm to represent them after they won five years in a row. Grimm grimaces, “I was under a lot of pressure to continue the win streak. I practiced tiddling as though it were the Olympics. From January to late May I trained. And I lost!”

Usually Kiwanians assign their newest member to be non-chairman for the non-event with only a few hours lead time. New city ordinances requiring $150 in parade permit fees “ended” the Fest in 2001. But what about “flash mobs”? Last year, John Rudolph’s son, Jim, held a Scotch broom flash mob. Better prune your invasive broom and get ready.

... Or was it yesterday?

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