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Coal Queen to reign again

Labor Day tradition being revived in Oak Creek

Jennie Lay

Roll out the tiaras, the royal parade floats and the huge chunks of coal. Oak Creek is reinstating the town’s traditional Coal Queen and Coal Princess contest for Labor Day this year.

Pursuit of the noble titles has begun. Girls in the eighth grade or younger who want to run for princess and girls from ninth grade to 20 years old who want to run for queen are selling tickets that give purchasers a chance to win a pot of cash and support Oak Creek’s Labor Day festivities. The top-selling girls in each age group will be crowned Coal Princess and Coal Queen, respectively.

Oak Creek decided to revive the royalty for its 91st Labor Day celebration after a nearly 44-year lapse in crowning the coveted “coal” title.

Oak Creek historian Mike Yurich has reconstructed the history of the Coal Queen for the Oak Creek and Phippsburg Historical Society, with some of the following anecdotes:

The Coal Queen competition originated in 1941, when the Union Locals from the area mines each sponsored a girl to run for royalty. After a vote, Mary Rolando won the title and had the honor of leading the holiday parade. Her throne was a large chunk of coal, and her crown was a miner’s hat.

With patriotism on the rise in 1943, Coal Queen contestants sold war bonds, and the girl with the most sales won. By the early 1950s, the system shifted so each ticket to the Oak Creek movie theater gave purchasers one vote for queen.

When the union stopped sponsoring Labor Day celebrations in the 1950s, Oak Creek residents took over the festivities and the financing. The Oak Creek Silver Spruce Women’s Club changed the Coal Queen title to Labor Day Queen and had girls sell 10-cent tickets to raise money for various projects.

A 1951 plan to encourage people to shop in Oak Creek by granting one vote for queen for every dollar spent at a local business went bust when a contestant’s father bought a car to give all the votes to her.

By the 1960s, funding Oak Creek’s Labor Day celebration became increasingly difficult. The Labor Day committee relied heavily on the money brought in by queen contestants’ ticket sales, and in 1967 the committee upped the ante by encouraging ticket sales with the chance to win a $100 drawing for each ticket purchased.

During the late 1970s and 1980s, the popularity of selling tickets to earn the queen title dwindled and the Labor Day committee had to find other means of income. Queen contestants wrote essays about why they wanted the title until 1990 when the ticket selling competition was revived.

By 1999, the Labor Day Queen and Labor Day Princess contests were dropped altogether.

In honor of the town’s mining heritage, Oak Creek is reinstating its Coal Queen and Coal Princess royalty this year. Girls are selling tickets for $1 each. The girl who sells the most tickets will receive a tiara and a spot on the queen’s float in the parade.

Ticket purchasers will be entered into a drawing for $50 in cash.

Girls who are interested in running for Coal Queen or Coal Princess should call Mayor Kathy “Cargo” Rodeman at 846-9114, Beth Wisecup at 846-0371 or stop by Oak Creek Town Hall to pick up tickets.

— To reach Jennie Lay call 871-4210

or e-mail jlay@steamboatpilot.com


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