History of the Earthquake Festival

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The famous Winters’ Earthquake Festival would never have continued past its first year if it hadn’t been for a seemingly unfortunately scheduled wedding. At least, that’s what the festival’s founder, Charlie Wallace, believes.   “It would have been a flop,” Wallace says, if the event had taken place as he had planned it. The idea to celebrate the natural disaster that shook historic Winters came about when Wallace and his father, Newt Wallace, were drinking some beers and shooting the breeze. They realized that the town was approaching the 100th anniversary of the quake that nearly leveled it in the early hours of April 19, 1892. Why not throw a party to celebrate the event? Charlie started the process of securing Main Street to throw a party large enough that the entire town could attend. He put the invitation in the Express, and encouraged people to show up in their best 1890’s attire. Then came the complaint. As it happened, the anniversary of the Winters Earthquake fell on the same day that a local family had reserved the Community Center for a wedding. The idea of sharing the special day with a potentially noisey street festival was, understandably, not a pleasant one. Wallace moved the event back a week in order to mollify the wedding planners. Now that the date was set, the entertainment needed to be secured. Wallace remembers that Dave Draper’s band was engaged to play at the event, and a cowboy poet came to perform. Wallace can’t remember the name of the poet, but does recall that he was very good. Wallace notes that John Pickerel was very important when planning the event. The 100th anniversary of the earthquake coincided with the 100th anniversary of the Hotel D. V. Bliss. (Read “The history of the Winters Earthquake” to learn more about how the event affected the building) Wallace printed some labels for “Snake oil” that included a drawing of the hotel. Howard Hupe, dressed as a snake oil salesman in a top hat and tails, walked through the festival, hawking the elixir. Wallace still has one of the bottles on display. Nobody was quite sure what to expect on that evening. Wallace says he recalls thinking to himself, “Boy if no one shows up, it’s going to look really bad.” As it happened, a large number of people showed up, and because of the turnout the Earthquake Festival was not the only Winters tradition that started that night. As Wallace was planning the event, he was made aware that the town had never taken a “team picture.” If they were going to throw a party with the whole town invited, why not use the opportunity? Photographer Tom Dote was the one to stand at the top of the ladder truck. People crowded into the historic block of Main Street, and the first town picture was taken. Wallace recalls that after that most of the people considered the event to be over. To Wallace’s surprise, as the one group left and entirely new group showed up, ready to party. The next year the Chamber of Commerce asked Wallace when he was planning to host the next event. The Chamber had sold beer at the first one, netting a good profit. Wallace, who hadn’t made any money one the event, handed the plans over to them. The event was moved to August, in order to not compete with Youth Day and avoid any chance of rain. Poor weather was actually the reason that Wallace believes the event almost never happened. It rained on the day that Wallace had originally scheduled the event for. If it hadn’t been for that wedding and the family that insisted Wallace move the date of the event, the first Earthquake Festival would have been a soggy disaster. He believes that fewer people would have attended, and the Chamber would have never continued it. Much like the original earthquake, the first Earthquake Festival faced the elements with a healthy dose of good luck. Over the years the event became the summertime staple of Winters entertainment that it is today.]]>

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  1. Emma Johnson, thanks for a respectful quick historical review of Winters Earthquake Festival. Lived here since ‘90. Thanks to you, I actually want to go this year

  2. Emma Johnson, thanks for a respectful quick historical review of Winters Earthquake Festival. Lived here since ‘90. Thanks to you, I actually want to go this year

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