Over the years more orchards were planted and the ceremony grew as
cherries became more important to the region’s economy. In 1925, the
cherry growers partnered with Traverse City merchants to create the
"Blessing of the Blossoms Festival" to promote the region and
the cherry business.
High School honor student Gertrude Brown beat out 72 other
contestants to become the first Cherry Blossom Queen after her name was
drawn out of a hat. The festival included a parade through downtown
Traverse City that was recorded by newsreel cameras. The Festival Parade
featured marching bands, war veterans and 52 floats made from decorated
trucks, cars and wagons.
Beginning in 1926, the Cherry Festival Queen was selected by popular
vote. The photos of all 34 nominees were printed in the local paper
along with a ballot form. That year, Charlotte Kearns won a decisive
victory over the other 26 candidates with 702 votes out of the more than
5,000 that were cast.
Her parade was delayed for 45 minutes because the newsreel cameras
hadn’t shown up yet. One of the more unusual floats was a scene from a
WW I battlefield with a wounded soldier holding up several German
helmets under a sign that said, "Who Said We Couldn’t
In 1926, the tradition of baking a huge cherry pie and presenting it to
the US President began. Hawkins Bakery in Traverse City baked a pie that
weighed 42 pounds, was three feet in diameter and contained more than
The giant pie had to be loaded into a car via its tilting windshield and
then into a specially built wooden box in the back seat. It took three
days to drive the pie from Traverse City to President Coolidge’s
summer White House at White Pine Camp in Upstate New York’s Adirondack
mountains, but the pie arrived none the worse for wear and President
Coolidge was delighted.
1926 Cherry Festival Queen Charlotte Kearns
with the giant cherry pie
Historic Festival Highlights
- A late frost ruined the cherry crop in 1927, causing the
celebration to be canceled.
- In 1928, the Blessing of the Blossoms was renamed the Michigan
Cherry Festival and Michigan Governor Fred Green was on hand to
crown the queen.
- In 1930, the festival was expanded to three days, with more
parades, an air show, a boat race, entertainment, sports, and many
other events. President Herbert Hoover attended the opening day
ceremonies, but after being presented with his cherry pie he was
overheard remarking to an aide, "Give it to the poor."
Hoover had reason to be in a dour mood because the stock market had
crashed just seven months earlier and the nation was plunging into
the Great Depression.
- In 1931, the state legislature passed a resolution making the
festival a national celebration and renamed it The National Cherry
Festival. Seven US Navy ships docked in Traverse City and 3
companies of sailors marched in the parade that year.
- The 1933 parade featured a beer truck that dispensed beer all
along the parade route to celebrate the end of Prohibition.
- The first "Dog Show and Parade" was held in 1939, and
prizes were given to the dogs who were the biggest, smallest,
fattest, thinnest; had the biggest ears, smallest ears, longest tail
and shortest tail.
- In 1941, boxer Joe Louis, "The Brown Bomber" attended
the festival and refereed several Golden Gloves boxing matches.
- During the World War II era 1942-48, the Cherry Festival was
suspended, but it has been held every year since.
- The Anheuser-Busch Clydesdale horses made their first appearance
in the Cherry Royale Parade in 1953.
- In 1963, the first Sand Castle Tournament was held on the beach at
- The 1967 festival featured a display by the US Navy of a simulated
atomic attack totally destroying a miniature village. After the
blast, SeaBees administered first aid to the miniature victims. A
rather dubious presentation, to say the least.
- The Mummer’s Parade had always been a strange affair with people
dressing up in wild costumes and acting out, but in 1967, the parade
reached a new low in questionable taste. The "King of the
Mummers" was riding on the Cherry Festival Queen's float in a
crown and full-length mink coat, sitting on a toilet while smoking a
cigar and occasionally pulling up his coat to expose his rear end.
That stunt put an end to Mummer’s Parades in Traverse City.
- In 1970 the celebration began with a two-minute "Festival of
Noise" with everyone in town making as much noise as possible
in every imaginable way possible, including car horns, banging on
washtubs, bells and musical instruments of every description.
- 1973 featured the first "Milk Carton Regatta." Boats
were required to use milk cartons as their primary means of
flotation. The Great Lakes Maritime Academy took the prize for the
most milk cartons by using 1,800 on their craft. The "Bean
Pot" built by Chuck’s Sport Shop won the race. Darryl Nelson
won the prize for the most original entry—a contraption shaped
like a water wheel.
- The 1975 Cherry Royale Parade was the biggest ever at 180 entries
and attended by over 300,000 people. It was led by President Gerald
Ford, a Michigan native and former U.S. Senator.
- In 1978 the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds performed for the first
time. Five T-38 fighters dazzled the crowd gathered at the beaches
with acrobatic feats and heart-stopping maneuvers.
The National Cherry Festival has continued to expand over the years
and The Cherry Royale Parade has become one of the largest parades in
the Midwest. The 8-day festival brings nearly one million visitors and
about 26 million dollars to the Grand Traverse area.
Among the many attractions are three parades, a classic car and truck
show, an International World Cup Beach Volleyball Competition, live
music, a cherry pie eating contest, turtle races, a fishing contest,
bingo, a pet show and of course, the selection of a Cherry Festival
Queen. There were about 150 events and activities, and over 85 percent
of those were free, including the giant fireworks display over West
Grand Traverse Bay that closed the festival.
Hotel rooms in Traverse City are usually all booked up well in advance
of the Cherry Festival, so if you’d like to stay overnight, you need
to make your reservations well in advance. Visit the National Cherry
Festival’s web site at http://www.cherryfestival.org/
for more information.