::The Genesis of Dandelion Days - Logan's Alley, Vol. V
Most of us, locals or visitors, retain a special memory about this phenomenon now named "Dandelion Days Celebration & Flea Market". Yours may be that first 'tug o'war' across Jackson Creek; or black-clad gunslingers reliving OK Corral; or downing a brew outside the Wells Fargo bar; or simply strolling, seeing friends, snacking at a hometown booth. Don't a thousand and one scenes come rushing back? Mine? An academic one: from an aerie on the balcony of the National, studying the tremulous, gyrating, techniques of the belly dancers in 1977.
Where has the last quarter-century gone? Yes, this o'revelry began 25 years ago this month. That's why the '99 extravaganza, produced again by the Jackson Lions, is billed as the 26th. Reluctantly did the Lions take over the event from the tired-out originators in 1983. Reluctantly? Yes. The club in its wisdom had voted thumbs down on adopting it in '82, but hard salesmanship by David Carlson and others finally convinced the Lion board. I'm sure there's no second thoughts now.
Though only 25, this event's beginnings need telling. For over a decade, as part owner and editor of the Fun Times, the writer puffed and touted the event for the then Dandelion Committee. The monthly's first coverage was in 1976, two years after the malt's start. But that story only told how it started and got its name. It didn't tell you what actually happened that first year. To find out one can look into back issues of the Ledger, Dispatch and Progress-News. In them there's ample detail about the '75 event, but about '74? Nary a word! Not an ad! No proof that year such event took place.
To find out - did you attend? - the writer called its originators, Richard and Jean Tone of Sutter Creek and Olive Thompson of Jackson. They were among county antique dealers in the 1970s who traveled to Ireland, plucked every available "antique" out of shop, fair, or barn and shipped them here, usually in a box-car size container, for sale. Among the importers were Neil and Bernice Stark, owners of the National Hotel and Antiques, Thompson Antiques at the end of Vogan Alley in the National, and the Tones' Jackson Antiques, across the parking Lot from Thompsons.
These Amadorians discovered in Dublin, Ireland, an open-air mart near St. Stephen's Green named "Dandelion". Later, Tone said that discovery was in '73. The next year they started it here. With no budget, little support beyond the Tones, Thompsons, a sister-in-law Betty Duncan, and Starks, the first Dandelion days just happened. "We just did it", remember the Tones. Mrs. Thompson recalls that they needed something, anything, to drum up antique sales that March. As they all knew about the Dandelion name, they used it.
We're accustomed to today's Dandelion flea market, that, amoeba-like, has spread, and extended tentacles in any direction to fit more booths. Uber Lion Norm Trevaskis says
they expect "over 350" at $75 each. You do the math. Does that make the club rich? No, the community. Proceeds go to scholarships.
Each year at least one student from each of our high schools gets a vocational or businessoriented scholarship, some worth $5,000! This year you'll find booths on Main from
firehouse to National, in the Wells Fargo and Bank of America parking lots, Petkovich Park, and the parking lot-park at the end of Vogan Alley.
How many booths, where, that first year? As best Thompson and Tones can remember, the whole event was contained easily between creek and building at the end of Vogan Alley! a mere two or three booths, selling oddments, some antiques they hoped, and baked potatoes! No performers, gunfighters, belly dancers, hundreds of booths, or thousands of people.
From such a puny germ has this colossal Dandelion grown! Incidentally, this will be the first year in 25 that Al and Olive won't have a booth. Is somebody else going to hand out daffodils? Hope so.
However small and unadvertised it was, the first Dandelion Days enthused the other antique and collectable merchants in the Petkovich mall building. For the second DandeDays in '75, the committee added Gene and Gwen Taylor, Edith and Bert Weaverling, Bonnie and Warren Douglas, Dolores Stair and pprobablyothers. The committee also enlisted the Sons of St. Patrick's who always put on an annual dinner at the Wells Fargo.
From two or three in '74, the '75 included "about 130 booths" at $10 each, a tug 0' war, and a Sunday parade featuring movie star Don Haggarty. That noted Jackson Irishman, Dan O'Vukajlovich, headed the the parade. Also that year the Starks produced a St. Patrick's Antique Auction on Sunday in the National.
By '78 the Dandelion Committee had established what is now a tradition,awarding vocational and business scholarships. By '83, for the 10th annual, when the Lions took it over, the number of booths exceeded 250, and they sprouted in parking areas of both banks, the title company and corner lot where the park is now, and Vogan Alley "park" where it all began.
That year the Lions also initiated the shuttle bus service from the vacant parcel at way 49 and Clinton, as the demand for parking far exceeded the supply near downtown. Yearly, sellers hawk art and treasures which (the late) John Lovell once defined as "junk with some applied imagination".
Skeptics recall it has rained a lot during Dandelion Days, but never did it dampen the spirit of the Lions, the sellers and even the crowd. Come whatever, thousands make it to Jackson St. Patrick's Day weekend for the Dandelion Celebration & Flea Market.
From an Irish idea and local pluck in 1974 has grown this wonderful event that buys scholarships for our young men and women, provides a fun outing for thousands, and
gives us all wondrous memories, of booths and belly dancers, cabbages and kings.