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Thursday, November 4, 2010


Things seemed simpler back then, before there were bluetooths or telephone booths. That's probably why Lake Wales, Florida, has its Pioneer Days Festival every year.

Hundreds of people, young and old, gathered by the lake last weekend to celebrate all things old. My wife and I were there to witness cloggers, canoe races, and "re-enactors" pretending to be lost in time. "Ma" spun wool while "Pa" split wood. Next to their encampment a blacksmith turned chunks of iron into horseshoes.
Several horses grazed nearby.

A husky man threw knives and tomahawks with great accuracy. Later he opened a can of Coke by slashing it with a bullwhip. In the pioneer village you you could buy a hat made from three skunks for $150. It smelled okay and on a very cold day it'd be worth every cent.

Junk food abounded. There was enough kettle corn, corn dogs, and cotton candy to ruin any one's diet. The Lord's Day was also Halloween. If you needed a scare you could tour a haunted tent. If that wasn't enough Spook Hill was two blocks away (that's where cars are known to coast curiously downhill...) Yes, downhill. Its kind of spooky that locals find that interesting.

Living in the past would not be complete without an old car parade. We enjoyed forty of them rolling by, close enough to touch.
There were Corvairs, Studebakers, Packards and Desotos. Its "grand finale" was nine magnificent Hudsons in a row (the one to the left is a Hudson Hornet).
One of them broke down mid-parade and had to be pushed off the street. Maybe that's why they stopped making them in '54.

The Big Tent (as opposed to the haunted one) had non-stop music, dancing, and story telling. The big moment came when the Pioneer of the Year was crowned.

An event like this could be a crowning achievement for any town. They'd just need a bit of history and a big-hearted, hard-working person to run the show.

Lake Wales has Mimi Reid Hardman.
Mimi, the other volunteers, and sponsoring businesses make Pioneer Days happen. The Woman in Red was everywhere. As the wind rippled her patriotically plumed outfit she made sure all was well.

I have known Mimi for over thirty years and have always admired her unceasing ability to promote art, culture, and historic preservation in her Central Florida town (it is close to Disneyworld but not too close).

Coconut Grove could have its own Pioneer Days. Our rich history would make it perfect for The Barnacle or Peacock Park.
All we need is a Mimi.

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