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Resurrecting a fall tradition

October 21, 2010

A crew stacks hay on a ranch in Round Valley in the early years of the 20th century. Harvest festivals celebrating robust returns such as these were held throughout Inyo County 100 years ago, and one such celebration has been resurrected for the public’s enjoyment this Saturday in Independence. Eastern California Museum Photo illustration by Sky Hatter

A 1911 postcard touting the “First Annual Harvest Festival, Bishop Ca.” promised attendees “a day of jollification” and celebration in “the Owens Valley, the land of plenty.”
Now, 99 years later, the Eastern California Museum in Independence will try to provide the public another “day of jollification” during its first annual Harvest Heritage Day on Saturday, Oct. 23. The “jollification” will commence at 1 p.m. and continue until 5 p.m., at the Eastern California Museum, 155 N. Grant St., in Independence (three blocks west of the historic courthouse).
The free fun will include kids’ activities, food and drink, live music, homemade pies and treats, an historical talk and slide show, and a unique “dressed vegetable” display.
The Harvest Heritage Day event is free to the public and is fashioned after the Harvest Festivals held in each town in the Owens Valley in the early 20th century, according to Museum Director Jon Klusmire. Towns would have parades with floats featuring local produce and the output of local farms. Music, dances, barbeques, bingo and a day of fun were all part of those historical harvest celebrations. The museum, the Friends of the Eastern California Museum and the Manzanar History Association are reviving this rich tradition of celebrating the coming fall season and admiring the bounty of the growing season in the valley.
Sharing some of that bounty from local gardens and pantries is also part of the event. The public is encouraged to bring homemade baked goods with a fall theme to the festival. Apple pies and cobblers, peach pie, cookies and other goodies, including jams and preserves, will be displayed and then eaten. In addition, the Alabama Hills Café, in Lone Pine, and Jenny’s Café, in Independence, will also be providing tasty deserts and baked goods.
Fresh produce grown green in local gardens will also be in the spotlight.
One of the more unique aspects of the event will be the “dressed vegetable” display. Local gardeners can bring their large vegetables, such as squash or zucchini, and dress them up in festive clothing, all for fun. Members of the Independence Civic Club have already volunteered to bring their “dressed vegetables” to the event, and will help “dress” whatever vegetables, and even fruits, that show up. The Civic Club will also be offering Independence Day T-shirts for sale, “Tut Totes” from last year’s Fruitcake Festival and other civic-minded merchandise.
Aside from the desserts, the afternoon will feature a free All-American lunch of hot dogs, chili and drinks.
On the musical “jollification” front, popular local country western band Sandy and the High Country will be playing and entertaining while the crowd enjoys the displays and food.
For the smaller harvesters, there will also be a variety of kids’ games and activities offered, including bobbing for apples, pumpkin painting, pin-the-tail-on-the-scarecrow and other events.
While eating, drinking and playing is going on outside on the museum grounds to in an effort to duplicate the fun of past fall celebrates, inside the museum local historian Jane Wehrey will provide a historic glimpse into past autumns with her program, “Three Marys of Mazanar: Remembering Autumn’s Layered Past.” Wehrey will present her talk at 2 p.m. and again at 4 p.m.
Through historic photographs and first-person accounts, Wehrey recounts stories of three young women who once called Manzanar home. The lives of a Paiute daughter, a girl of the orchard community, and a young Japanese American internee of the relocation center are windows into the past of this multi-layered landscape, where communities of diverse peoples have come, lived and departed more than 150 years. Wehrey will go back first to 1904, when many of the Owens Valley’s native people were still providing labor for the area’s white ranchers. Mary, a young Paiute woman, provides a glimpse into the two very different worlds of the white ranching families and traditional Paiute ways that she moved between.
The sunny disposition of Mary, a daughter of the orchard community in 1924, mirrored the optimism that accompanied the founding and settlement of the Manzanar fruit-growing subdivision in 1910. But by 1935, both hope for the future and the close-knit community itself had disappeared. In their place came a new community born of war, racism, and fear, when 10,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, most American citizens, were brought to Manzanar in 1942 to live in a barren, mile-square barracks city surrounded by barbed wire. By 1944, the young Mary of this confined community had become its “songbird,” bringing music and a needed sense of normalcy to an uprooted people as she “accentuated the positive.”
Wehrey brings a special perspective to her account, since she is both a long-time Owens Valley resident and an accomplished researcher and author. She is the author of “Voices From This Long Brown Land: Oral Recollections of Owens Valley Lives and Manzanar Pasts” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), and “Manzanar,” a pictorial history (Arcadia Publishing, 2008).
For more information about Harvest Heritage Day, call (760) 878-2016, or (760) 878-0258.

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