June 24, 2015's Weekly Slap:

“Beach Slapped” is what it is because from the moment I first came to the Oregon Coast, most every moment I lived here, and even my last hours here, it was always about the beach. That wasn’t always true of my life, and perhaps that’s been my problem.

Growing up in Colorado, I was a long way from the beach. I don’t care what anyone says, lounging next to a giant lake/ civic water supply is not the beach.

BartonGroverHowe.com:Where to keep up with humor writer Barton Grover Howe. Here, you'll find all of his Beach Slapped columns from The News-Times in Lincoln County, Oregon, excerpts from his latest books and the occasional random musing that would get him fired if he published it in a family newspaper.
A crabby nation celebrates
- May, 2006
More than 15 years following the crumbling of the Soviet Empire, it would be tempting to look at the history of Newport’s Loyalty Days and deride the festival as an artifact of a time long since past. Indeed, for many all that remains of the dreaded USSR is the humor of Yakoff Smirnov,  which has nearly died, and Fidel Castro who it seems never will.

The truth, however, is very different. For in the end, Loyalty Days has its roots in stuff far more enduring than anti-Communism. Rather, it is about what makes American great: gluttony and putting dead animals on one’s head. And that’s just the Crab Festival.

The need for Newporters to celebrate the first weekend in May began in 1938. At that time, Dungeness Crab was considered a fairly low-class seafood. (Culinary anthropologists have never been quite sure why this came to pass, but continue to debate the subject in order to justify large federal grants.) To get more people to eat the shellfish, festival organizers invited people to come to Newport for free crab.

Some 25,000 people came to Newport to take advantage of the crabmeat and other prizes, like free washer-dryers. As the 2,000 residents of Newport watched in shock, the city became “The Price is Right” on steroids.

The post-festival mess was staggering, requiring one dump truck, two men and three days to clean up. The stench alone caused many people to ask: Why is “Old Spice” scented like men that have been at sea for months on end? Is that supposed to be a good smell?

Many locals were disgusted with waste the visitors left behind, which is why the next year they did it all again, this time bringing 30,000 people to town. Indeed, that year festival leaders wore king crab shells on their head to tout the festival. Really.

No wonder “Old Spice” was an improvement.

By 1940 the festival came to include dozens of brobdingnagian crabs, but the end, alas, was nigh. In 1941 the last festival was held, owing to the outbreak of WWII. And the fact that nobody could even pronounce “brobdingnagian.”

In 1947 the crab festival returned for a few years. Free crab and game-show style giveaways of cars drew thousands to the coast. But by 1951, the festival once again ended. Crab had gotten too expensive as a result of Bob Barker’s never ending attempts to have all crabs spayed or neutered.

Area residents needed another celebration; some suggested Arbor Day. But that was already taken, and since most of the areas trees had already been cut down it seemed a little hypocritical. Fortunately, president Dwight Eisenhower had an idea: with the Korean War over, Americans needed another way to fight communism. How about Loyalty Days?

He thought them, “a most effective counter to the disorderly demonstrations of Communist May Day,” making it the first time in history 100,000 soldiers goose-stepping in unison was called disorderly. In 1953, the local VFW chapter hosted a modest Loyalty Days parade.

But the celebration really took off in 1957 when the Lincoln County Veteran Council, in conjunction with the governor, declared May 2 the beginning of a four day event in Newport and indeed all across the state (with the possible exception of Eugene.) It was a festival that would excite Newport for years to come:

In 1961, Sue Foster was chosen the first Loyalty Days Queen. Not only was she a wonderful human being, but she had the most American sounding name ever. The News-Times also offered advertisers the chance to “reaffirm their loyalty to . . . the American way of life by sponsoring this page.” No Chinese food restaurants were involved.

In 1962, A Nike anti-aircraft missile and an astronaut suit were put on display. Each lasted approximately 30 minutes before Phil Knight sought to have swoosh logo embroidered on both. And in 1969, Smokey Bear attended the festival beginning a continuing tradition of sweaty people in animal costumes. These people still smell better than “Old Spice.”

Even in the 1960s, however, the festival began to evolve from its beginnings as a strictly pro-American celebration. Loyalty Days had been founded, according to the Chamber of Commerce, because, “this wide-spread observance has a tremendous effect on (the peoples) of Communist countries and their satellites.” Unfortunately, most people in communist countries never saw even a moment of Loyalty Days; they were poorer than dirt and had no television. No, not even basic cable.

Just as importantly, however, Newport residents discovered there were other things worth being loyal to, like a love of Newport itself. Bowling and square dancing events were held, along with an underwater treasure hunt at Marine Science Center and sky-drops from the parachute club. Hootenannies were also held, although even then no one knew why an owl would need an au pair. In 1970, Sea Fare was added to recognize Newport’s attachment to the sea.

This is not to say the over-riding theme of patriotism was neglected. For those that still valued victory over the Soviets, rugby matches were held allowing for legalized blood-letting. Sponsors even considered combining the parachute drop with a demonstration of the anti-aircraft missile until it was discovered Phil Knight would not be in the plane.

By the early 1970’s, however, Loyalty Days was almost dead. An unpopular war raged in Vietnam, while Richard Nixon and his administration were defying all attempts to have them spayed or neutered. In Newport, attempts to update the festival failed when the Jaycees floundered in their attempts to start a beer garden. Despite using copious amounts of fertilizer left by parade horses, no beer would grow.

The students of Newport High School brought it back to life in 1973, however. This, despite early disappointment that the return of Hootenannies would not result in women in tight t-shirts or never-ending buffalo wings. Indeed in 1974, NBA star John Johnson led the parade, unaware that as a Trailblazer he was supposed to be embarrassing his community and refusing to play until someone “respected” him by giving him $10 million a year to play a game.

2006 marks the 60th observance of the official beginning of Loyalty Days, a festival that has become a combination of the best of new and old. There is still a queen, although starting in 1966, they began electing people with names like “Schon Furer,” to broaden the demographic. Certainly, no one named Ivanova Gorbachev has held the crown yet, but it’s not impossible to imagine. Indeed, by 2058 Fidel Castro himself might attend because that man will never die.

In 1980, community leaders were given the title of Grand Marshall. In 1983, Mo Niemi even delayed a trip to India to fulfill her duties, although to this day many people on the sub-continent still wonder why there is no decent clam chowder in New Delhi.

And for those that still like a little sacrifice with Loyalty Days, they can purchase a commemorative pin and stick it to their chest without the rubber backing. Or, if they really like pain – this is true - they can attend a Yakoff Smirnoff performance in Branson, Missouri.

Historian’s Note: Today, the Nye Beach Merchants celebrate the spirit of the Newport Crab Festival every July with their giant clambake. Although the clams are not free, games, kids events and other attractions are. Bob Barker is not invited.