Like the swallows to Capistrano, the Monarch butterflies to Mexico, and the geeks to San Diego Comic-Con, so too did weed-obsessed revelers once more return to the streets of downtown Winslow Wednesday, May 15 for that legendary, elusive, much-whispered-about stunning annual display known as the Scotch Broom Festival.
The parade vehicles gathered, and were festooned with the iconic invasive plant in the Town & Country Market parking lot.
And a curious crowd gathered.
The traditional tiddlywinks match between representatives of the Kiwanis Club of Bainbridge Island and the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce commenced (the Chamber won).
And the crowd grew, cell phone cameras busily documenting the strange goings-on.
Then, this year’s Scotch broom queen was randomly selected.
And the festivities began in earnest.
This year’s monarch was Jennifer Carrillo, a longtime employee at Chase Bank in Winslow and an island resident since 1997, who said she was, “just walking up the street” when members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of King County selected her.
“My friend … saw a bunch of Scotch broom walking by, and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I wonder if it’s the Scotch broom parade?’” Carillo said. “And then one of our coworkers, he’s new to the area, and he was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ And we were explaining it to him and I said we’re going to go check it out.”
Though she had no immediate idea as to her first royal decree, her highness was fortunately not allergic to her title’s namesake plant. Her friend, however, was, and kept a respectable distance from the car-turned-carriage as the parade got underway.
Though considerably better attended this year, including a substantial boost in young volunteers from the aforementioned Boys & Girls Clubs of King County, as well as the usual Kiwanis troops, the spirit of the holiday remains a roguish distance from the mainstream.
The “impromptu” festival is a quirky island tradition dating back to 1965, when Kiwanis member John Rudolph began the event as a joke.
Legend has it, Rudolph was contacted by somebody who was doing a guide book for the state, they were looking into all the different festivals and fairs around Washington and in need of some additional material for the Bainbridge section.
Rudolph was happy to oblige.
He spun for the eager rube a magical tale about a time-honored festival in which island residents observe a tiddlywinks match, crown a queen and march through the downtown streets waving the region’s most iconic weed.
Of course, no such festival existed, but that was of no concern to the prankster at the time.
“Some months later somebody showed up looking for the event,” remembered Mickey Molnaire during a previous festival. “So, they decided they better do something [and] they threw together this parade.”
Molnaire, a previous queen herself, who rode again in this year’s parade, is also the wife of Ron Konzak — one of the event’s original co-creators.
The festival is traditionally an underground event, shrouded in secrecy, with minimal planning and supposedly no formal notification whatsoever. Yet, psychic perhaps — or maybe just very, very lucky — islanders most in the know always find themselves downtown in front of Town & Country with bunches of Scotch broom on the same day, and so the legend lives.