MERIDEN — The Daffodil Festival will draw thousands to Hubbard Park this weekend for a parade, music, food, rides and much more.
The event has evolved to become the city’s signature festival and a regional attraction. Here are nine memorable moments in the festival’s rich history:
1. Daffodil Day
In 1953, residents were encouraged to view the 150,000 daffodils in bloom at Hubbard Park. Like today, the flowers were grown from bulbs shipped from Holland and planted months earlier. Mayor William J. Cahill Jr. declared April 19 as “Daffodil Day.” In the years that followed, the event turned into a weekend long celebration.
2. ‘A permanent program’
In a March 1978 letter, Record-Journal Publisher Carter White proposed to Mayor Walter C. Evilia that the city transform Daffodil Day into something more. White suggested an annual festival in Hubbard Park.
“Hubbard Park has without doubt the best displays of daffodils every spring of any city or park in the state,” White wrote. “We have lots to be proud of in Meriden, and the Hubbard Park daffodils are one of the most striking examples. It would do credit to your administration to start such a permanent program.”
Parks Director Frederick C. Mandeville replied to White on behalf of the city. “...I sincerely feel that your idea could become a reality,” he wrote.
The first festival was held the following spring.
3. Children’s pageant
From the beginning, there was the Little Miss Daffodil pageant. Heather Young, 6, was crowned the first Little Miss Daffodil in front of 200 people in a rain-drenched ceremony. In the late 1980s, the pageant was expanded into a citywide contest that included a girl from each elementary school.
4. Parachutist in tree
In 1980, the Daffodil Festival Committee hired professionals to parachute onto an “X” on the ground near the bandshell. Parachutist Tom Scoville was blown off course by high winds and landed in a tree by the bandstand instead. Scoville wasn’t injured but it took nearly an hour to get him down.
“We were just sitting there looking at this guy thinking, what are we going to do,” said longtime committee Chairman Mark Zebora.
5. Food tent begins
In 1988, the festival introduced the Silver Fork Food Tent, which consisted of 13 community non-profit groups serving food at the festival. Hot dogs, clam chowder, cotton candy and a variety of other specialties were served under an 80-by-200 foot festival tent set up in the park. By the early 2000s, the food tent had expanded to include booths hosted by nearly 40 different non-profit groups.
“Food is such an important part of the festival,” Zebora said. “We want that to continue.”
6. Brush fires
In 1989, the annual fireworks display ended in at least a dozen brush fires. A combination of dry climate and fierce winds caused the fires that took firefighters hours to extinguish. As fire crews battled flames, a separate incident occurred on Interstate 691 as state police responded to a crash. A car was hit by another vehicle after the driver pulled over to watch the display.
7. Icy road to castle
In 1991, the festival offered guests shuttle bus rides to Castle Craig. That year a shuttle bus full of festival goers became stuck at the top of East Peak due to icy conditions.
“We get a call from the bus company that the top was iced over,” Zebora said. “The change in temperature from the park to the top was significant.”
8. Funding threat
In 1992, the festival almost ceased to exist as the committee struggled to secure funding, almost losing both municipal and state funding. City Manager Michael H. Aldi proposed a city budget that eliminated funding for the Daffodil Festival. Funding for the festival was eventually secured and Zebora said the committee began looking for alternate sponsors and ways for the festival to be self sustaining.
The festival annually showcases Connecticut musicians but has also attracted its share of nationally known artists, including Eric Burdon, the lead singer of The Animals, who performed classics like “House of the Rising Sun” from the band shell stage in 2008. In 2002, former Byrds leader Roger McGuinn headlined the festival. The year before Graham Parker, a formerly angry young man of the late 1970s and '80s, shared top billing with perennial bar-band favorites NRBQ.
Meriden native and one of Nashville’s most successful and prolific songwriters Gary Burr has also returned to the Silver City to play the festival several times through the years.
This year’s headliner, Poco, is a pioneering country rock band formed in the late 1960s after the breakup of Buffalo Springfield.
For more information on the festival including a complete schedule go to daffodilfest.com. Look for complete coverage through the weekend, including our Live Blog, at myrecordjournal.com.
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