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Fall 2013
Humboldt Hula and
Memories of Sequoia Carnival

by Will Speegle
Written for the Humboldt Times of February 16, 1933, and January 22, 1944.

Humboldt Hula

Freshmen receptions at Eureka High School were great social events, calling out the new pupils and their families in very large numbers, to be entertained in regal manner. The faculty members, school officials, patrons and patronesses made the affairs very wonderful gatherings, marking them as decided milestones in the lives of the youngsters who were just entering the higher branch of local schools.

One such event occurred a number of years ago [circa 1920], and was attended by a surprise that nearly upset things. It was before the talkies brought things to such a familiar basis as they now are. Dancing in the nude had not yet arrived. And even the hula was taboo.

Fully 1200 people had gathered for the event and things were going great. In the new freshman class were Lane Falk, the future doctor; Alice Lambert, now Mrs. George Osborne; Mildred Hansen; Sam Burre, another future doctor, and others. Suddenly the orchestra struck up a hula, and from apparently nowhere a hula dancer appeared in the center of the dance floor and wiggled and twisted to the delight of the youngsters and the consternation of fond fathers, mothers, and teachers. In spite of every objection the dance continued till the end of the musical number.

It leaked out later that the hula performer was none other than George (Doggie) Waldner, all dolled up in such a manner as would have fooled Queen Liliuokalani herself. Can you imagine sedate, dignified, gentlemanly George doing a hula? Well, he did, and what is more, he responded to an encore.

Memories of Sequoia Carnival

The three day Sequoia Carnival of July 18-20, 1895, included parades, bicycle races, firemen's tournaments, concerts, bay excursions, awards ceremonies, and royal receptions for the queen and her maids of honor.

And Way back yonder in the Gay Nineties, Eureka's citizens put on the finest pageant of its entire history. The idea was conceived by the late Major Willard Wells, who was about the most resourceful person it was my pleasure to know and revere, for his was a splendid personality. He not only had many a good idea but was always ready and willing to carry them out when their success meant much to the community.

Committees met and planned for the Sequoia Carnival of 1895 and the program they set was to cost a pretty sum. How to raise the necessary funds was the problem. Finally they arrived at a decision to hold a queen contest and ask the entire county to participate. To reach this conclusion was one thing and to get it under way so that there would be plenty of money shoveled into their coffers was another. I don't remember whose idea it was or if it just happened, but when the contest was announced only a short time elapsed before there was the prettiest fight for preference ever staged.

The committee dickered with the newspapers of the city and gave then the privilege of carrying a voting coupon in each issue. These coupons would be available to all who subscribed for the paper or purchased additional numbers. The newspapers took over the task of publishing the ballot with no thought of financial reward, but they were due for a big surprise.

On Second Street in those days the men's wear firm of Gemmell & McKinley was the hangout of woodsmen who came to town on weekends and holidays. Billy Gemmell was an Orangemen from the north of Ireland and Dennis McKinley was a member of the Y.M.I. and hailed from the south of Ireland. You can imagine the heated arguments that went on in that store on frequent occasions, but to their credit be it said that none of the arguments went so far as to bring about physical contests.

Well, as the voting proceeded the boys from the north of Ireland chose as their favorite candidate Miss Elma Haight of Fortuna, and the boys from the south of Ireland selected Miss Eleanor Mathews of this city. As days progressed the voting grew hotter and more frequent. Other candidates were in the contest and received liberal support but it was early evident that if they would have any chance at all against the Misses Haight and Matthews, they had to be on their toes. And here's where the newspapers came in. Extras were sold by the thousands and the purchasers bought and cast the ballots, paying at the additional rate of five cents for each one as it was deposited in the big ballot box. At the end of each week the totals were posted and advertised and this spurred all of the contestants to greater activity. Naturally many of the accumulated votes were held back until the end of the contest, but each week saw many a twenty-dollar gold piece and heaps of tens and fives as well as quantities of silver coins sluiced into the committee cash box. [When voting closed on July 14 at 8 p.m., an astounding 146,210 votes had been cast for the top three contenders.]

The future hula dancer George Waldner in 1903, with his mother Tillie Waldner. George Waldner (1900-1977) would serve as the editor of the Ferndale Enterprise from 1933 to 1977.

Willard Wells (father of Historical Society benefactor Helen Wells Barnum) conceived the idea for a grand three-day festival in Eureka in 1895, perhaps to rival the "Floral Fiestas" that year in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg.

This illustration, which appeared in a local newspaper, shows the Sequoia Carnival Queen and her maids of honor, and, bottom center, the "mechanic's arch."

When the final count was announced it was found that Miss Haight was the winner, Miss Mathews was second and named Principal Maid of Honor, and Misses Annie Hall, Annie Evans, and Mabel Scott polled such high votes that they were appointed as additional maids of honor to Miss Haight.

Then came the big celebration, which was an event long to be remembered. Street and business house decorations were gorgeous, and parades, grand balls, athletic events and many other diversions were dished up for the thousands who filled Eureka during the celebration. Queen Elma and her four maids of honor, beautifully gowned by the carnival, were present at all of the affairs and were invariably accompanied by Lawrence F. Puter as crown prince, who danced attendance and added much to the success of the occasion. Sequoia Carnival is but a memory, but a most pleasant one for those who were here at the time.

These fun articles by Will Speegle originally appeared in the Humboldt Times of February 16, 1933, and January 22, 1944.