TBT: 39 years of Meriden Daffodil Festivals in Hubbard Park

TBT: 39 years of Meriden Daffodil Festivals in Hubbard Park


MERIDEN — Now one of the state’s best-known spring outdoor events, the Meriden Daffodil Festival started 39 years ago as an afternoon pageant in Hubbard Park.

“We went from a three-hour show in 1979 to now two full weekends and a handful of events that go on and it attracts so many people,” said Mark Zebora, the former parks and recreation director. “It’s amazing how things have changed and how they’ve grown.”

In 1953, then-Mayor William J. Cahill Jr. proclaimed April 19 “Daffodil Day.” Daffodil Day turned into Daffodil Weekend in 1970 under Mayor Donald T. Dorsey, who suggested a festival might be fitting. Eight years later, the late Record-Journal Publisher Carter White sent a letter to then-Mayor Walter C. Evilia proposing a festival to celebrate the daffodils.

A committee was formed and the following year the first ever Daffodil Festival took root in Hubbard park.

Heather Young, 6 at the time, had the honor of being crowned the first Miss Daffodil in a rain-drenched ceremony . Only about 200 people showed up to enjoy 300,000 daffodils in the park that year, about half the number that will blossom at this year’s festival, said Zebora, who continues to oversee the festival.

Weather has, at times, caused problems. During the festival’s second year, high winds blew parachutist Tom Scoville off course, landing him in a tree in front of the Hubbard Park bandstand. Uninjured, except for his pride, Zebora recalled the accident as “embarrassing.”

“The people that paid him to jump said this guy is a pro and we expected him to land on the “X” we had on the ground and everyone was going to clap,” Zebora said. “He missed it by a lot.”

In 1991, a shuttle bus taking people to the top of Castle Craig got stuck due to icy conditions at the top of East Peak.

A few years later, a microburst hit the city just days before the festival was scheduled to begin, destroying tents that had been set up in Hubbard Park.

“It was a rainy night, a bit of a windstorm and we came back and all the tents we had set up on the tennis courts were gone. The metal framing was bent,” recalled longtime volunteer Ernie Larsen. “We had to scramble because the festival was two days away.”

A mild winter last year caused the 500,000 daffodils to bloom in mid-March and disappear two weeks before the festival.

Zebora expects this year’s daffodils to be in full bloom for festival weekend.

“You can almost watch them grow they are coming out so quickly so the daffodils should be in great shape,” Zebora said.

Festivities begin for the pre-festival weekend on Saturday, April 22, and Sunday, April 23, with a tag sale, food trucks, carnival rides and a 5K road race.

The festival weekend will be April 29 and 30, featuring a parade, live music, fireworks, food vendors, and more. For more information, visit the website at daffodilfest.com.

Twitter: @LeighTaussRJ


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