Growing up, I was confused about May Day. Why did some people call it Community Day and others May Day? Why did only our town celebrate it? And what was with the Maypole?
Now that I’ve read up on it, the confusion is understandable. The short version is that Community Day or May Day is a combination of events. The longer version is . . .
Cleaning up the Town
Community Day got its start in 1913 writes B. W. Lyon. At that time, the town was 800 people, a few saloons and stores and a wood schoolhouse. “The children were careless about marking, and the buildings were marred and streets and vacant lots and much of the residence property was strewn with rubbish,” says Lyon in 1954.
The kids cleaned up the school grounds and got so excited they went to Mayor Nettleton and suggested a “town clean up day” to remove the graffiti. The residents got into the event and rubbish was soon going up in smoke. What couldn’t be burned was hauled away — and community day was born.
The following Community Day included a baseball game and socializing. “We made the Community Day a time when old timers could come back and meet many of their old friends,” says Lyon.
Tacoma Eastern Fair
In 1914 the Tacoma Eastern Fair started up and was soon incorporated into Community Day. In 1917 people could exhibit and win one or more of the 1,450 prizes handed out. Directors of the Fair were from all the communities — from Kapowsin to Ashford — and Lyon as president.
As the years progressed the popular Community Day programs were “varied and elaborate”. In 1926 over 3,000 people attended (based on the population that would be 8,000+ today). It took two days to build the booths and the highlight that year was laying the cornerstone of the Masonic Lodge.
A May Fete, or royal court, was started in 1919, by Bertha Mahaffie. It was its own event and held on May Day, until 1926 when it too was combined with Community Day. The first Community Day royalty were Queen Faye Williams and King Bill Smith.
By about 1936 Community Day had become mostly a May Fete celebration — grade school children “participated with folk dances before the floral throne of the king and queen”, and there were also track events, a school baseball game, a senior play in the evening, and displays by different grades and school departments.
Fast forward 75 years to the first Friday in May. Eatonville still celebrates Community Day . . . or May Day.
Here’s to the kids who started the ball rolling!