Once upon a time, the rich Puyallup River Valley was the center of the universe when it came to the production of hops, that vital ingredient in the making of beer. Then came disaster in the form of hop lice and mildew.
After that, the farm folk of the valley turned to the daffodil for their salvation. Daffodils came to the Puyallup Valley around 1925 to replace the area’s dying hop industry. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommended bulb growing because of the valley’s excellent soil and ideal climate. About 200 varieties of daffodils are grown, with the King Alfred being best known and most locally grown.
The Daffodil Festival, for all intents and purposes, began on April 6, 1926 when Mr. and Mrs. Charles W. Orton were hosts to civic leaders from 125 towns in Western Washington. The Ortons lived in rural Sumner and opened up their home for a garden party where there were many varieties of daffodils in bloom, in and around their estate. Among the many guests were the mayors from Seattle and Tacoma. Major General Robert Alexander, a commander at Fort Lewis, brought a military band and a group of officers and their ladies from the Army post. After this first garden party, the event became an annual affair.
Year after year, interest grew, (along with the ever-expanding daffodil fields) until 1932, at which time “Bulb Sunday” came into being. The viewing of daffodils in bloom became fashionable, and, unfortunately created a massive traffic problem for Puyallup, Sumner and Orting, as up to 8,000 vehicles crowded the roads bordering the golden fields. The calamity of this congestion brought a halt to “Bulb Sunday.”
1934 was to become “Parade Year.” Well-known Tacoma photographer and first secretary of the founding group, Lee Merrill, suggested that the daffodil blooms, which at that time were thrown away or used as fertilizer, be used instead as decorations for a festival parade. Automobiles were decorated with daffodils, bicycles followed in like-fashion and together they all paraded through the neighboring valley towns. A mounted contingent of the finest riding horses in the area appeared each year. The idea grew, and presently, the Grand Floral Street Parade travels through four Pierce County communities on Parade Day – Tacoma, Puyallup, Sumner and Orting.
In 2018, the Daffodil Festival will be 85 years old, and there has been a parade every year since 1934, with the exception of the war years of 1943, 1944 and 1945.
In addition to the parades, the heart and soul of the Daffodil Festival, there are a series of related events, most notably the annual choosing of a Royal Court of Daffodil Princesses and the ensuing round of obligations that these iconic ladies have as ambassadors of Pierce County.
There is a Princess Promenade (which took place in February), a Queen’s Coronation (slated for March 31), a Princess Tea and numerous other duties for the members of the court to attend to.
Additionally, the Daffodil Festival includes a Junior Parade and a Marine Festival and Parade.
Called “Traditions in Bloom,” the 85th annual Daffodil Parade takes place April 7 at the following times: Tacoma – 10:15 a.m. (downtown, along Pacific Avenue between South 12th and South 21st Streets); Puyallup – 12:45 p.m. (7th Avenue South, Meridian, West Meeker and 3rd Street West); Sumner – 2:30 p.m. (down Main Street between Kincaid and Valley Avenues); Orting – 5 p.m. (along Washington Avenue between Bridge Street SE and Whitsell Street S.)
The Daffodil Festival Grand Floral Parade is an annual celebration of the community, history, traditions and growth of its Pierce County home. Traveling through the four cities of Tacoma, Puyallup, Sumner, and Orting, the Parade consists of more than 180 entries, including floats, bands, marching, and mounted units. Linking one generation to another in tradition, floats are decorated with thousands of fresh-cut daffodils, just like the daffodil flowers that grew in the Puyallup Valley more than 80 years ago.
The coronation of the Daffodil Queen will take place at the Rialto Theater (310 S. 9th St., Tacoma) Saturday, March 31 at 7 p.m. The Queen’s Coronation is always a very special celebration for the Daffodil Festival, and especially the Princesses of the Royal Court. It is on this evening that a Queen is chosen to reign over the many Festival activities that take place throughout the year.
Serving as the official ambassadors of the festival and Pierce County, the 23 young women participating in the royalty program have each been selected by their schools and communities as representatives.
During the coronation program, they are judged on their academic standing, personality and attitude, speaking ability, appearance, sociability, speech content, festival awareness and impromptu speaking ability. By the end of the evening, one will be chosen from among the princesses who has performed to an exemplary degree in all of these categories, and she will reign as Queen for the rest of the festival year.
The 55th annual Junior Parade will be held in Tacoma’s North End Proctor District April 14 at 10 a.m. The junior parade is geared to children, encouraging the growth of creativity and fun in even the youngest. Costumes, pets, music and non-motorized floats make this parade a very special event. The Daffodil Princesses will be there to kick things off, by leading the Parade and sticking around to watch all of the other entries perform, too.
For more information, visit www.jrdaffodil.com
Wrapping up the Daffodil Festival’s Parade season, the festival takes to the water with the Daffodil Marine Festival and Parade on Sunday, April 15 at the Tacoma Yacht Club.
The Tacoma Yacht Club hosts the Daffodil Royalty and dozens of other yachts and marine vessels in the Daffodil Marine Festival and Parade. Beginning at the TYC, near the Point Defiance Ferry Terminal, the Parade continues on along the waterfront to the Thea Foss Waterway in downtown Tacoma, which makes for more than one beautiful place to stay dry landside to watch the parade and enjoy the Festival’s beautiful day on the water.
For more information, contact the Tacoma Yacht Club at www.tacomayachtclub.org/Daffodil_2018.
For more on the Daffodil Festival and to view maps of the parade routes, visit thedaffodilfestival.org.