Celebrating Colonel Albert Lea Days

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 4, 2006

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part series.

By Ed Shannon, staff writer

To help publicize what was called a &8220;mammoth celebration&8221; scheduled for June 5-8, 1940, the Albert Lea Chamber of Commerce had this promised list of events and activities for Colonel Albert Lea Days on a special letterhead: &8220;Big Free Circus – Sac and Fox Indian Ceremonials – Five Mile Parade – Water Carnival – Torch Light Parade – Contests – Old Settlers Reunion – Band Concerts – All Types of Beards and Old Fashioned Costumes – Kangaroo Court – Bands and Drum Corps Galore – Hundreds of Other Attractions.&8221;

Jay Gould’s Million Dollar Circus from Glencoe was the traveling entertainment group selected to be in the city for the four full days of this celebration.

Some events took place in what was then the new

Fountain Lake Park. Other attractions like the Sac and Fox Indian group from Tama/Toledo, Iowa, had their encampment at the Freeborn County Fairgrounds. And for each of the four days there was a parade, plus &8220;free acts on (the) street,&8221; and plenty of band music.

The major events listed for June 5, 1940, &8220;Farmers’ Day,&8221; were a torchlight parade on Broadway, and a public wedding in Fountain Lake Park. About 15,000 people attended the this nuptial ceremony uniting Russell Dowd and Loretta Kappas, both of Albert Lea.

The real highlight of this entire celebration occurred on June 6, 1940. This was the &8220;Grande Parade,&8221; held on a Thursday afternoon. The parade was described in the Tribune as being five miles long and watched by at least 50,000 people. Units in the parade went from the fairgrounds south on Bridge Avenue and further south on Newton Avenue, then crossed over to Broadway Avenue and went north.

Musical groups marching in this parade were the Albert Lea High School Band, Garner, Iowa, Junior Drum Corps, Kiester High School Band, Emmons High School Band, Alden High School Band. Austin High School Band,

Wells High School Band, Lake Mills, Iowa, High School Band, Elmore High School Band, Freeborn High School Drum Corps, Bear Creek Band (from the Grand Meadow/Racine area), and the Austin Eagles Drum Corps.

This parade consisted of many floats sponsored by area firms and organizations, antique autos and trucks,

horses galore both being ridden and pulling wagons and buggies, and various history-themed units. One of the most popular was a double yoke of oxen.

Given special mention in the Tribune were parade units representing the communities of Mansfield, Austin, Conger, Myrtle, Faribault, Clarks Grove, Geneva, Emmons, Alden and Wells.

A real treat for the parade watchers during the three-hour event was the huge St. Paul Winter Carnival float with the 1940 king and queen and followed by several marching clubs.

One predictable factor for any celebration in this part of the nation has to be based on the weather. For this parade the conditions were based on a hot sun and this comment by columnist Albert Lea Tommy (Tribune Editor Bert May):

&8220;The committee in charge of the celebration is very thankful for the weather man for giving us such fine weather. The clouds threatened all day, and it was pretty sultry &045; but as long as it didn’t rain, everyone was happy. I would hate to think what would have happened to all the many pretty floats &045; and the hoop skirts &045; if it had rained!&8221;

However, on Friday, June 7, 1940, what was labeled as Governor’s Day, several events were canceled or rescheduled because of rain. And as promised a month earlier, Minnesota Governor Harold Stassen came to the city to be part of this special observance.

One of the events rescheduled from Friday to Saturday was a sharpshooters demonstration at Edgewater Park during the morning. The appearance by Mr. and Mrs. L.W. Johnson, using both shotguns and rifles, was sponsored by the Remington Arms Co. and the Peters cartridge division.

On Saturday afternoon

the focus of Colonel Albert Lea Days shifted to Fountain

Lake for two events. One was a motor boat regatta sponsored by the Lakeland Outboard Association and the Albert Lea Junior Chamber of Commerce. There were several races based on marker buoys in the lake.

Between the races a group of lumberjacks from Cloquet demonstrated their skills at logrolling on the lake.

After the last motor boat race, the Cloquet lumberjacks gave a demonstration of a watery game called canoe-tilting.

The last afternoon of this celebration also featured a fourth parade in the city’s central business district. It was led by the 28 young

ladies of the Anchor Casualty Drum Corps from St. Paul.

This celebration ended with a beard and costume judging at the Fountain Lake Park bandshell. The judging part was based on appearances and historical accuracy, especially for the women’s garments.

Perhaps the oddest part of the beard judging came with a weighing contest. A local barber cut off the

beards of 10 men. Then each beard was separately weighed on a druggist’s scale to determine the winner as carefully decided by the total in grams. It could be said the winner may have won by a hair or two.

On June 5, 6 and 7, 1941, a second Colonel Albert Lea Days was held. Then, for the next four years, the nation was involved in World War II and many of the area’s young men and women were in the military services and the attention of all citizens was focused on victory.

Several

attempts have been made to revive Colonel Albert Lea Days through the years. However, none could ever repeat or duplicate the success of the original event 66 years ago.

(Contact Ed Shannon at ed.shannon@albertleatribune.com or call 379-3438.)