Monday, February 18, 2013

"Whiskerinos" and the Golden Jubilee of Richmond, California

Ernest Johnson, age 58, dressed for the Golden
Jubilee in Richmond, California, August 1947.

I was quite surprised when I first saw this photograph of my maternal grandfather, Ernest Johnson, with a beard and moustache adorning his face. To my knowledge, he had never worn any facial hair, aside from an occasional unshaven stubble that he liked to rub against his grandchildrens' faces for their squeamish reactions.  My mother told me that when they both lived in Richmond, California, the city held a Golden Jubilee from August 22-24, 1947, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the city's founding. Among the planned activities was a "Whiskerino" contest, for which "Richmond's male populace [had] been grooming their whiskers for weeks."  Grampa always seemed to be a team player, having been raised with nine siblings, so I'm sure he thoroughly enjoyed the anticipation of the events, and perhaps talked over plans time and time again in the break room with his fellow custodians at the Ford Plant.

In 1945, my grandfather moved to the west coast from Leonard, Minnesota, when he could no longer make an adequate living as a farmer.  By 1947, he had been a widower for over 25 years.  Richmond, California was a boom town during World War II, mostly because of the local shipyards and the tank production going on at the Ford Motor Company plant.  Housing shortages continued right after the war, so Grampa lived for a time in a boarding house and then rented a room above a water tower.  He was a modest man with simple needs, and he knew how to get those basic needs met by taking steaks or salmon from the Richmond Pier to his sister's nearby apartment on Sundays, in exchange for a good home-cooked meal.

Richmond's Golden Jubilee celebration was meant to serve as a reminder of the "good old days" in the history of the west. It seems that not just my grandfather, but many other Richmond residents had a lot of fun getting into the spirit. Here is a link to a privately owned collection of photographs taken during the Golden Jubilee parade in downtown Richmond, in August 1947.

The huge parade was not the only special event planned for the 3-day celebration.  Opening the festival was a mock raid on a downtown pharmacy by "Joaquin Marietta," an early California badman, along with his henchmen.  "Guns from both sides will blaze, but, as in olden times, the bandits will lose and will be carted off the 'jail' and kangaroo court," a local newspaper reported on the day before the commencement of the Jubilee.  Following an exciting start, there were plenty of activities to follow, including a hillbilly music contest, a Mexican festival, and a Saturday night costume ball at nearby Alvarado Park, for which all attendees were expected to wear pioneer dress.  I would like to have been a fly on the wall to see Grampa thoroughly enjoying himself, wearing his crinkly smile, and his sporty new whiskers, of course!

"Raid to Open Richmond Fete."  The Oakland Tribune, August 21, 1947. p. 16, col. 1.

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