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Gale Largey’s Documentary Film about First 19 Laurel Festivals
Photo provided courtesy of Penn Wells Hotel
Pictured is Phyllis Viola, the first Laurel Queen chosen at the first Laurel Festival in June of 1938.
The Gale Largey documentary film being shown for free at 7 p.m. this coming Wednesday, April 26 is about the first 19 Laurel Festivals held from 1938 to 1942 and from 1946 to 1959 with a three-year hiatus in 1943, 1944 and 1945 due to World War II.
This showing will be in the handicapped accessible Coolidge Theatre on the first floor at the Deane Center for the Performing Arts at 104 Main Street in Wellsboro rather than in the Grand Community Room. Planned for Jan. 25, the date was rescheduled to April 26 due to bad weather.
Largey is a retired Mansfield University sociology professor who enjoys making fascinating documentary films about local history and involving community people and others in the process.
“The 45-minute documentary about these Laurel Festivals was inspired by ‘Life in Wellsboro 1920 – 1960’ published in 1988,” Largey said. It was the sixth in a series of books about Tioga County communities that he had put together beginning in 1973 with the publication of the first, “Life in Roseville.”
“For this 1996 film, I interviewed many of the laurel queens by telephone, including 1938’s Phyllis Viola of McKees Rocks,” said Largey.
“All of the queens sent photos and two sent actual film footage, including some provided by 1958 queen, Heather Streich of Emporium, which shows the 66 candidates walking down Main Street. The photos and footage, along with other footage taken at the Laurel Festivals during those years were incorporated into the documentary.
Larry Woodin started the Laurel Festival under the sponsorship of the Wellsboro Lions Club. The first was Saturday through Monday, June 4-6, 1938. Following a Monday afternoon parade and circus, Miss Viola, one of 37 queen candidates, was crowned the first queen. “I only came because my mother made me,” she told Largey. “I really didn’t want to be in it.”
The first time a queen was chosen from Wellsboro was in 1947 when Janet Evans was named. She shared with Largey the criteria used to select the queen.
Three songs were written by different local people for the festival in 1938, 1941 and 1949 and are sung in the documentary by Mansfield University students.
In 1950, the Laurel Festival officially became “The Pennsylvania State Laurel Festival, the three-mile parade included 23 bands and drum corps, and 24 floats and for the first time, the 67 queen candidates brought escorts.
In 1954, the first Sunday Service was held on The Green and in 1959, the first Pet Parade. Now in its 81st year, it is interesting to compare the festival’s early years to the way it works today.
Also being shown on April 26 is Largey’s 21-minute documentary “Lost & Found: Beliefs & Honesty in the 1950s.” “This was a fun film to do and has humorous moments,” said Largey. It draws attention to praying to St. Anthony to help one find a lost item, and resisting the notion of “finders keepers, losers weepers.” This film was written and directed by Largey, edited by Mark Polonia and narrated by Adam Brennan.
Largey will introduce each film and point out interesting aspects about it. After the showings, Largey will host a question and answer session with the audience.
For more information, call the Deane Center at (570) 724-6220.
Writing: Diane Eaton