Cambrian: Opinion

Tales from Town: May Day promises blooming good time

The Queen of the May, Bernice Dughi, is accompanied by her court: from left, maids Cleo Mitchell, Emily Berri, flower girl Grace Doggett, maids Norma Bassi and Mildred Willis. This first festival was May 1, 1932.
The Queen of the May, Bernice Dughi, is accompanied by her court: from left, maids Cleo Mitchell, Emily Berri, flower girl Grace Doggett, maids Norma Bassi and Mildred Willis. This first festival was May 1, 1932. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CAMBRIA HISTORICAL SOCIETY

On Saturday, May 1, the Cambria Historical Society will present a colorful Spring Festival, based on annual May Day activities originally hosted in the 1930s by Cambria’s Women’s Athletic Club.

This year’s event will feature a flower show, farmers mini-market, heritage plant sale, children’s activities and light refreshments from noon to 4 p.m. at the Cambria Historical Museum. We are especially grateful to have members of El Pinal Parlor of Native Daughters of the Golden West and Cambria 4-H helping us with the event.

In honor of spring, gardeners from Hearst Castle will showcase historic plants from their gardens. Several of our members and friends have been busy volunteering in the Castle greenhouses, propagating roses, geraniums, tree dahlias and other plants for the occasion. We’re honored to be following in the footsteps of William Reid, the late father of museum docent Marj Sewell. Mr. Reid worked many years as a gardener for William Randolph Hearst, setting out as many as 500 begonias each year at the Castle. But, I’ve been told not to count on blooming begonias by May Day this year.

We will have members of local garden clubs displaying their prize flowers, and the Historical Society will have roses and other plants for sale. You can also expect to find booths filled with spring produce and local crafts. Cambria 4-H kids will celebrate with a traditional May pole dance, and all children young-at-heart adults will be invited to create pretty flowered hats for spring. Tea sandwiches, lemonade and other garden party refreshments will be served. I think it’s shaping up to be a sweet, old-fashioned event. And, we are encouraging local businesses throughout town to join us by putting up spring decorations.

If you visit the museum, you’ll discover from one of our exhibits that May Day was a big deal for Cambria and for the Women’s Athletic Club of Cambria Pines, a private social and civic benefit club founded in 1931. Its membership was limited to 20 young women from Cambria Pines, Cambria and San Simeon.

Historian Dawn Dunlap tells us that, in the spring of 1932, the club (locally known as “The WACS”) founded and sponsored the area’s first May Day Festival. It included a May Queen contest and pageant; parade; bring-your-own basket lunch at the campgrounds of The Cambria Development Company’s newly built Cambria Pines Lodge; children dancing and costumed as wood nymphs, fairies, bees, butterflies and flowers; acrobatics exhibitions; musical entertainment; baby contest; and a lecture on monitoring and maintaining children's physical and emotional health. The celebration ended late in the evening with a campfire and song fest. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

The May Queen contest was open to local girls who attended Coast Union High School and the winner was determined by how many votes she collected through selling vote vouchers. In 1932, there were 29 girls who ran for queen. The

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first May Day Queen was beautiful Bernice Dughi, who was Wilfred Lyons’ girlfriend during their junior year in high school.

The May Day Festival was held from 1932 to 1938. The May Queens were: Bernice Dughi, Lillian Krenkel, Mildred Wills/Norma Bassi (Mildred had the mumps and Norma got to serve as queen by proxy), Marjorie Ingersoll, Aldyth Evans and June Genesa. The girls worked very hard selling votes, thereby, raising money for the town’s Children’s Clinic.

In 1934, the popular May Day Festival was expanded to two days and attracted other local clubs and organizations. The festival was phased out rather quickly by the rise in popularity of the rodeo events held at the town’s Rodeo Grounds. The spring flower show continued to be held at the Cambria Pines Lodge for many years and the town’s Children’s Clinic, or Well Baby Clinic, continued in Cambria for nearly 50 years.

While our Spring Festival on May Day 2010 may not be as elaborate as in days gone by, it will be a fun and festive way to celebrate spring in this beautiful place we call Cambria. Hope to see you there!

Susan McDonald is a member of the Cambria Historical Society Board of Directors. The Cambria Historical Museum at the corner of Burton Drive and Center Street in Cambria’s historic East Village is open to noon to 3 p.m. Fridays through Mondays. For more, go to