The Festive Sara de Soto Pageant of 1948

By | January 24, 2013

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sara-desoto-pageantWhen George Chapline first published “The Legend of Sara de Soto” in 1906, little did anyone anticipate that the story would become the basis for a week-long festival that attracted thousands of visitors. The 1948 Sara de Soto Pageant celebration, coordinated by the Jaycees, was an elaborate eight-day production that included sports, beauty contests, Spanish costumes, water carnival, parades and dances.

Sunday, February 15, was opening day, with a sailing regatta that filled Sarasota Bay with boats from many communities and Merchant’s Day golf tournament with 170 participants at Bobby Jones Golf Course. On Monday, the county fair opened at its new site on Fruitville Road. Although the fair was organized separately, its connection to the Pageant was illustrated with a children’s bicycle race from Five Points downtown out to the fairgrounds. Boys and girls from eight to 17 years old competed in three age groups for prizes. A boxing show of 32 rounds drew a crowd to the American Legion Coliseum at Fruitville and U.S. 301. Fireworks from Golden Gate Point completed the evening.

The Jaycees in particular and the community in general were invited to dress in Spanish costume for the pageant week (several hundred costumes were available for rent at $5-10). Those walking in the Five Points area without a costume were subject to being lifted into the monkey cage, on loan from the Ringling Circus, until promising to dress the part. The Herald-Tribune’s Main Street Reporter (Helen Griffith) noted the Father C.L. Ellslander of St. Martha Church, Daisy Doll of the circus family, Heine Manush of baseball fame, and former Sarasota Mayor E.A. Smith were early captives. For men, the “Face Foliage” contest awarded shaving mugs and soap for the best beards, mustaches, and sideburns grown for the occasion.

The main event for Tuesday was the coronation ceremony and ball at the Municipal Auditorium. Before a packed audience, the ten members of the royal court entered the playing of “Pomp and Circumstance” under the raised swords of Kentucy Military Institute cadets. On a platform, the Lord Chamberlain named and crowned Al McFayden and Earline Philpot as the new king and queen. The Lord High Mayor presented the royal couple with a key to the city and dancing proceeded until 2:00 a.m.

On Wednesday, the Lido Casino pool was the place to be for the water carnival and beauty contest. Katie Rawls, winner of national swimming and diving titles and in training for the Olympics, was the star of the water show. A 20-girl water ballet, the Aqua-maniacs, and an alligator capture rounded out the water activities. Around the pool, the 13 beauty contestants who hoped to become Miss Sarasota paraded in front of the judges. The following day the Lido hosted a diving exhibition and fashion show.

On Thursday and Friday evenings, lower Main Street was converted into a dance floor. A later report concluded that the corn scratch feed used to level the road surface on Friday was preferable to the 300 pounds of grits that had been used on Thursday. The jitterbug contest was popular among the 1,500 to 2,000 who watched the dancing. Daytime activities on Friday centered at the Civic Center, where shuffle boarders and lawn bowlers from south and west coast Florida competed.

Saturday was parade day. In the afternoon, the Sarasota High School band led 201 individual and float entries of children up to age 12. The pageant king and queen selected “Good Over Evil” for first prize, “Robin Hood and Maid Marion” for second, and “Cave Man” for third. The grand finale was the evening parade of 50 entries. Grand Marshall Ross Boyer led the parade from the Municipal Auditorium to Palm Avenue and then on Main Street to U.S. 301. The 15 band and 30 floats were followed by a contingent of animals and performers from the Ringling Circus, which was still in its Sarasota Winter Quarters.

At the end of the week, Jayce President Art Ball declared the pageant a success. An estimated 100,000 people had attended the events in a community of about 20,000 during a spell of beautiful Sarasota weather.

Courtesy of Sarasota History Alive!

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