Archive for Thursday, August 24, 2000

DeSoto preps for weekend

August 24, 2000

Organizers of the DeSoto Watermelon Festival are dealing with a lot of figures this week, but don't ask them how many people are going to be in town this weekend.

"We have no idea," said Pat Atchison, member of the festival committee. Nor does the committee know how many people attended last year's event.

"Lots," Atchison said with a shrug. She is confident "lots more" visitors will find there way to DeSoto this year. The committee does hope to get an estimate of this year's attendance, she said.

Atchison and Watermelon Festival Committee Chairwoman Marge Morse do know the festival has attracted more participants than year ago the first year DeSoto's long-standing late summer or fall community celebration was called the DeSoto Watermelon Festival.

While last year's festival had a 45-minute parade, Atchison said this year's procession will last at least an hour. Seventy-one vendors have signed up for the craft fair, compared to 20 a year ago. There will be more food booths, living history demonstrations and games than last year, she said.

Car show organizer Tim Maniez said early registration has him hopeful the show will top the 60 vehicles that appeared in 1999. "I hoping for anywhere from 60 to 100," he said.

Tammie Johnson, an organizer of the festival's living history demonstrations, said there may be two Civil War "battles" fought in Miller Park this weekend.

Civil War reenactors will camp at the park Friday night, Johnson said. Depending on how many show up, they may stage a battle Friday night and repeat the performance on Saturday, she said.

Among the other living history demonstrations will be the kite flying Wind Wizards, Kansas Humanities Council speaker Fred Krebs as William Jennings Bryan, and Irv Hoffman as Col. Archibald Payne, founder of Monticello.

In his speech, Bryan (a.k.a. Krebs) will speak on watermelons. It is not known if he will mention DeSoto, but Morse said that would be appropriate.

When selecting a new name for the festival, Morse said the committee wanted something that would build community spirit among longtime residents and those new to the area (see related story).

"We wanted something that would connect to our heritage," she said. "What many people don't realize is that this community used to ship truckloads of watermelon and cantaloupe to Kansas City."

Like the attendance figures, DeSoto Days origins are fuzzy. Local historian Darrel Zimmerman said DeSoto Days began in the 1960s.

"The been some discussion of who organized DeSoto Days," he said. "It is thought the Jaycees came up with the idea. We had a very active Jaycees."

Zimmerman believes Jaycee member Herb Wood was a likely instigator.

DeSoto Days tended to wander around on the calendar the past three decades.

"The joke was we changed the date to whatever season we thought we needed rain," Zimmerman said.

The addition of the Evans Midland Empire Carnival has brought stability to the festival's scheduling, Morse said.

"We had to have a carnival to make this successful," she said. "What it came down to is they could schedule the carnival for the last weekend in August."

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