Ask Hamilton – Chattanooga’s Spring Festival

Chattanooga debutante Mary Louise “Lucy” Bond. Photo taken during Spring Festival, 1902.

Dear Hamilton,

I was digging through boxes in my attic last weekend when a black-and-white photograph caught my eye. A young woman dressed in a white gown sat atop a parade float, and an inscription on the corner read, “Flower Parade on Market Street, circa 1898.”

Do you know what it could be from?   

Sincerely,
Stumped in St. Elmo

Dear Stumped,

That photo is most certainly from the Spring Festival, held in Chattanooga from 1898 through the mid- to late-1900s.

What was the Spring Festival, you ask?

It was three full days of romantic  Victorian pageantry in downtown Chattanooga, and it began during one of the most trying times for our city: the Spanish-American War.

The festival made its debut in May of 1898 at the exact same time an outbreak of typhoid was sweeping though Camp Thomas, then the nation’s largest military training ground located just 10 miles from downtown. A band of civic leaders believed the lighthearted distraction was just what the city needed to boost morale and lure visitors – which it most certainly did, drawing an estimated 75,000 in its first year (Chattanooga’s population was then 49,000).    

As a bit of background, May Day celebrations were already all the rage in 19th and early 20th century America. It was trendy for Victorians to draw loosely from the holiday’s pagan and medieval origins for their own celebrations. For Chattanooga, which was then a boomtown of iron and steel, a festival of flowers, lightness, and spring offered a stark contrast to the gritty realities of daily industry.

The chief event of our very own festival was the grand flower parade, in which horse-drawn carriages and floats – all fantastically decorated with floral displays – carried prominent citizens down Market Street before thousands of spectators. Each year, the surrounding areas and neighborhoods would choose a “Queen” from among their number to represent their community in the parade. Additionally, one woman would be selected to be the “Festival Queen” and one man would be selected to play “Baldur,” the King of Spring and symbol of the festival.

My best guess is that this photo you’ve unearthed may very well depict the “Queen” chosen to represent St. Elmo in the year 1898.

Hope this helps,

Hamilton Bush

Resident History Hound,

Chattanooga, Tennessee

 

You Also Might Like

On the Map 2022
black and white world map

Area High School Alumni Take on the World These graduates have accomplished incredible things and enjoyed great successes since their Read more

Ask Hamilton – The Lookout Inn
The Lookout Inn circa 1890

A Luxury Hotel on Lookout   (Above) A view of the Inn’s wing and wrap-around porch, circa 1890   Photos Read more

Working in the City: Burlaep Print & Press
screen printed t-shirts from Burlaep Print & Press

For the Love of the Outdoors When a couple of college students started a small-scale fundraising venture in their free Read more

Morning Pointe Senior Living Celebrates 25 Years of Service
two elderly ladies at Morning Point

Raising the Bar in Senior Care Transitioning a loved one into assisted living can be a wearisome process for all Read more

Working in the City: I Go Tokyo
interior of I Go Tokyo boutique in Chattanooga

From Tokyo With Love Traveling to distant countries for a living would be a dream for many people. When Margaret Read more

Ask Hamilton – The W Road
Waldon's ridge on a postcard from the 1890s

The History of Walden's Ridge and the W Road   (Above) Postcard of Walden’s Ridge: “Along the Dixie Highway,” circa Read more