By Edi Sheldon
WALSENBURG- Summer festivals are an American tradition. Many communities have held events to draw the community together in the spirit of collective fun in the summer time. Walsenburg has been no different. Years ago the celebration began with a 4th of July celebration and has changed over the years. Following is a history of what I know about this evolution.
When I was in college, going through a box of old family pictures I found a picture of my father with a big black beard. This was very uncharacteristic of my clean-shaven Dad! I asked my mother, “What caused the need for the face fur?” She then related the following information.
During the latter part of the 1930’s when the coal mines were still going strong the locals decided that the usual ‘fiesta style’ summer celebration that took place around the 4th of July should be enhanced and renamed to celebrate the good fortune of the ‘black gold’ being extracted from the more than 50 coal mines here, and the dedication of all the miners who made it happen. Hence, the Black Diamond Jubilee entered the planning stages. Everyone in the county got into the spirit. The festival was planned for late June 1938. Local merchants were encouraged to vie for sponsorship of various contests reflecting the particular aspects of mining or agriculture which were the basis of the economy in those days. My father decided to participate in the Beard Growing Contest. The first prize was a new pickup, very appealing to my ranching parents.
Eighteen contestants competed, most not miners as beards were considered a hazard in that occupation. A growing period was six weeks and everyone started with clean shaven faces. Other contests were mule driving, coal car loading, moving slag from one pile to another, and rock splitting.
Non mining related contests included such activities as water melon seed spitting, pie eating, rope climbing and mutton busting. There was a parade for which the local school bands practiced and supplied marching music, a rodeo, quarter horse racing, and a rather large community picnic during which local bachelors bid on young single women’s picnic baskets. For children, an ice cream eating contest and an apple bobbing tub provided entertainment. Local merchants vended wares next to booths set up for fundraising by churches or civic organizations. Saturday evening a local band set up and partiers enjoyed a street dance. Hostelries were full, and locals housed friends and relatives in their homes for the weekend. According to the papers, attendance to the event drew many from around the region.
And, although I thought my father’s beard was quite well grown, the judges didn’t agree. Someone else won the pickup.