75th anniversary of Meeker Days Festival dates back to ‘The Days of Ezra Meeker’

Puyallup Historical SocietyJune 18, 2014 

EZRA MEEKER

Seventy-five years ago, Washington celebrated its Golden Jubilee, offering communities throughout the state opportunities to commemorate the event.

Tacoma celebrated in mid-summer, and many folks from Puyallup who attended thought their small city should hold its own celebration. Frenzied planning developed a three-day event from Sept. 14-16, 1939 that preceded the annual fair.

The program, dubbed “The Days of Ezra Meeker,” included a historical play, three big parades, contests, dances and a carnival. A corporation was chartered under the same name, “to provide for the perpetuation in Puyallup of the pioneer spirit exemplified by the life of Ezra Meeker, to sponsor an annual festival or celebration of the pioneer days and to foster historical, literary and scientific research.”

Hiram Spear, H.B. Alderson, Conley A. Stone, R.A. Fitzsimmons, A. H. Mason and J. C. Reynolds, initial signers of the incorporation papers, were elected officers of the corporation. The wife of Newell Hunt of Newell Hunt Furniture, was also part of the first committee.

In 1940, the year-old event celebrated Puyallup’s Golden Jubilee and was moved to August and expanded to six full days. In that year, a kangaroo court was established to fine men who would not grow a beard for the occasion, a decision with tragic consequences six years later.

The first post-war celebration was held from July 19 to Aug. 3, 1946. Heady with post-war euphoria, proceeds from the festivities were earmarked for the Living War Memorial project, which ultimately resulted in the Memorial Building on Meridian. Meanwhile, on Saturday, Aug. 1, Roy Edwards, secretary and building manager of the Elks Club, who had not grown a beard, slipped and fell to his death while trying to avoid detention by the Kangaroo court. While this tragedy cast a pall over the remaining events of the celebration, scheduled events were not cancelled.

The 1947 event was much more subdued than that of earlier years, with the Keystone Kops replaced by a “whisker pledge,” with the penalty being free coffee for those who grew whiskers, paid by those who didn’t.

After a 20-year hiatus, Puyallup Boosters and Puyallup JAYCEES revived the Days of Ezra Meeker in June 1968. In 1972 the fledgling Ezra Meeker Historical Society teamed with the downtown merchants to sponsor the first “Meeker Days” celebration.

The Days of Ezra Meeker Corporation was officially dissolved in 1978, and the holdings of that organization, including the Meeker covered wagon, were donated to the Ezra Meeker Historical Society.

“Meeker Days,” the lineal descendant of the Days of Ezra Meeker, remains a call to remember the good old days. Ironically, the celebration is still wandering around the calendar looking for a permanent home.

Just now, its place on the June calendar seems to be aimed at maximizing attendance while minimizing interference with summer vacations. One could argue that it would be more meaningful if it commemorated a specific event, such as the incorporation of the city in early August 1890. Golly, next year will be the town’s 125th anniversary. Time to make a plan?

Andy Anderson is the historian of the Puyallup Historical Society at Meeker Mansion. He can be reached through the Meeker Mansion at 253 848-1770.

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