First Laurel Blossom Time Festival held in 1931

June-Laurel-Blossom-Time
Mr. Glass places a garland of mountain laurel flowers on Miss Elsa Beamish’s head at the Wolf Hollow Country Club in Delaware Water Gap, crowning her the Poconos’ first Laurel Blossom Time Queen in 1931.

By Amy Leiser, Executive Director

Monroe County Historical Association

MountainLaurel_Flowers
Every June in the Poconos, mountain laurel flowers bloom. A relative of the rhododendron, mountain laurel blossoms delicate pink and white flowers that can only be seen for a few short weeks in early summer in our area — deep in forests, along our mountain streams, and lining our many small country roads.

Today, we easily recognize and enjoy the beauty of our state flower. In the early 1930s, many folks did too, and a committee was formed to celebrate this flower and to bring visitors to the region.

In 1931, “The Laurel Blossom Time in the Poconos” inaugural festival was held as a week-long celebration of the flower throughout Monroe County. The festival opened with a dinner on Friday, June 12 at the Penn-Stroud Hotel in downtown Stroudsburg. The closing coronation ceremony was held the following Friday on June 19, 1931 at Wolf Hollow Country Club in Delaware Water Gap.

Among the revelries of The Laurel Blossom Time festival was a beauty pageant unlike many others.

The pageant centered around the coronation of the Laurel Blossom Time Queen and her court of princesses. The young ladies were carefully chosen to represent the Laurel Blossom Court, and they were instructed to conduct themselves only with the upmost class. Organizers of the pageant decided, in an uncommon way for 1931, that the young women who participated in the event were to be college students. In addition, the fathers of the princesses and Queen of the Court had to be employed in what were considered to be "white-collar" professions.

The Daily Record newspaper bluntly reported that event coordinators did not want guests with a “Coney Island taste,” and that the county wanted to invite only “the better class” of ladies to the pageant. There was no doubt that the event was strictly designed for turning a profit.

Miss Elsa Beamish was the first Queen of the Laurel Blossom Time. She was from the greater Philadelphia area, and her father was an associate of the governor of Pennsylvania.

Queen Elsa’s court consisted of:

  • Miss Lois Wilhelmina Strickler (Ursinus College)
  • Miss Virginia Wood (Temple University)
  • Miss Edith Searle (Cedar Crest College)
  • Miss Muriel Lodge (New Jersey College for Women)
  • Miss Lois Keck (Muhlenberg College)
  • Miss Ruth Freihofer (Beaver College)
  • Miss Elizabeth Gegler (Moravian College)
  • Miss Helen K. Kelly (College Misericodia)
  • Miss Alice C. Gillespie (Marywood College)
  • Miss Elizabeth Trainer (Kutztown Teachers College)
  • Miss Jeanne Pelton (East Stroudsburg Teachers College)
  • Miss Eleanor Pedlow (West Chester Teachers College)
  • Miss Margaret Miller (Mansfield Teachers College)
  • Miss Cora Wagner (Bloomsburg Teachers College)

Throughout the week-long festival, the Laurel Blossom Time Queen and her court traveled from community to community staying at various resorts, having their photographs taken, and promoting the Poconos as a vacation destination.

The closing ceremony of the Laurel Blossom Time festival was intended to display grand pomp and circumstance, and it was a true culmination of the festival. Hundreds of local residents representing many civic organizations in the community participated in the ceremony held at Wolf Hollow. Trumpeters opened the ceremony, and a small group of young men and women dressed as Native Americans performed the “The Spirit of the Poconos” portion of the day. This portrayal highlighted the Indians’ connection to the natural world.

Before Queen Elsa and her court made an appearance, they were proceeded by a parade of local social and civil groups including the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club, Lions, Automobile Club, and the Chamber of Commerce.

Courtiers included representatives from the Junior Hospital Auxiliary, the Stroudsburg Junior Civic Club, the East Stroudsburg Civic Club, the Monroe County Agricultural Society, the Senior Hospital Society, the Barrett Civic Club, and the Stroudsburg Civic Club.

Miss Mary Houser of the Monroe County Garden Club served as Queen Elsa’s attendant.

Following the coronation of Queen Elsa by former mayor, W.W. Glass of Winchester, Va., the “Dance of the Laurel Blossom Fairies” was held. Dancers from Barrett Township, Brodheadsville, Craigs Meadows, Delaware Water Gap, East Stroudsburg, Effort, North Water Gap, Saylorsburg, Shawnee, Stroudsburg, and Tannersville performed around the Laurel Blossom Pole.

Miss Lillian M. Helmes and other members of the Business and Professional Women Club of Stroudsburg presented a cup to Queen Elsa. A demonstration of all the seasonal activities and sports offered in the Pocono Mountains was then performed. Baseball, tennis, track, golf, football, and swimming represented the summertime pursuits, while skating, skiing, hockey, snow shoeing, dog sledding, and tobogganing were highlighted as winter pastimes.

The close of both the day’s activities of June 19 and of the 1931 inaugural Laurel Blossom Time in the Poconos event was marked by the playing of taps.

Over the next few years, the Laurel Blossom Time event grew in popularity and included parades with floats and large dinner parties that were open to the public. In 1934,
National Geographic magazine featured Laurel Blossom Time in an article.

But by the start of World War II, interest in the festival began to wane. It had a resurgence during the 1950s, when parades grew to include as many as 23 floats, and famous faces such as Jackie Gleason and Fred Waring would crown the Laurel Blossom Queen.

From what best can be determined, it appears as though the Laurel Blossom Festival ultimately ran its course by the mid-1980s. While the festival did occur in some form or other for many decades, it never fully achieved the prestige it had had in the 1930s.

The original organizers of the Laurel Blossom Time Festival admitted to using this natural Pennsylvania resource as a scheme to bring much-needed exposure and funds to the Pocono Mountains area. They felt that other regions of the country were capitalizing on their particular natural environments; for example, there was the very successful Georgia’s Peach Festival as well as the Virginia Apple Blossom Time Festival, and, of course, the Washington D.C. Cherry Blossom Time Festival.

While the Laurel Blossom Time Festival does not continue today, the efforts of the organizers, contestants, and supporters committed to this event had a lasting effect. Because of the exposure they raised about the small blooms of the mountain laurel plant, the blossom officially became the state flower on May 5, 1933 when Gov. Gifford Pinchot signed the bill that passed the Pennsylvania Legislature.

The Monroe County Historical Association is very lucky to have in its collection a number of scrapbooks which highlight the first few years of the Laurel Blossom Time Festival.