Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival
The Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, a six-day festival held annually in Winchester, Virginia, is known for its many guest celebrities and events. The festival was first held Saturday, May 3, 1924, and was originally celebrated as a one-day event (although not held in 1942-1945 due to World War II). Features include a Grand Feature Parade, Firefighters' Parade (first held on Thursday, April 18, 1929), a carnival and midway, luncheons, races, walks, dances, and concerts, as well as a field show competition which formerly gave out the Queen's Cup trophy to the winner (although the trophy was retired in 1977 by Princess Anne High School of Virginia Beach, Virginia after winning the competition three straight years). The Queen, Queen Shenandoah, has been crowned every year at John Handley High School (with the exception of 2007 due to ongoing renovations), starting with the original Queen, Elizabeth Steck (Arthur).
A loss of interest during the 1930s, prompted the appointment of Tom Baldridge to the seat of Executive Director of the festival. He was also employed at MGM in the publicity department, which allowed him the opportunity to schedule celebrities, in turn renewing public interest in the festival. The period of the 1960s and 1970s introduced various new aspects to the festival including: the first visit by a U.S. President, Lyndon B. Johnson (1964), the beginning of attendance by sports celebrities Jack Dempsey (1965), and the premier of Sunday in the Park (1975). A favorite of children, even in present times, got its start in the festival in 1981, the Cole Brothers Circus of the Stars. To date, this is one of the oldest civic celebrations in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
During the spring, in preparation for the festival, the citizens of Winchester hold an annual clean-up, followed by decoration of the city in green, pink and white (festival colors), in order to make Winchester more presentable for its anticipated guests. Although the city only has a population of about 24,000, festival organizers estimate a total attendance of 250,000 to 300,000. Dan Aykroyd and wife Donna Dixon, a native of Northern Virginia, frequent the parade, and also own a summer house in Winchester, which they visit often. Over the last few years the guests have included Mario Lopez, Sean Astin, Al Roker, and Willard Scott. In 2004, Chevy Chase and his daughters appeared. His daughters had been nominated Fire Marshall.
Most recently, the festival of 2007 was the 75th anniversary of the Firefighters' Parade, still one of the largest parades of its kind in the nation.
Other notable celebrity appearances have included: Lucille Ball, Dorothy Stuart Hamill, Susan Lucci, Michael Vick, Dick Vitale, Hank Aaron, Whitey Ford, Jerome Bettis, Katie Couric, Joan Rivers, Archie Griffin, Lee Corso, Adam West, Devon McTavish, Erik Estrada, Ben Jones and Robert Urich.
In 2012, television star, Mario Lopez served as Grand Marshal of the Grand Feature Parade. In 2013, American Idol winner from season 10, Scotty McCreery served as the Grand Marshal. Celebrities Dr. Lori, star antiques appraiser from Discovery's Auction Kings, Jeb and Jessica Robertson from A&E's Duck Dynasty, and Bill Elliott of NASCAR fame were special guests in 2013 and participated in the Parade and Weekend in the Park festivities.