Friday, July 20, 2012

Racing Roosters and the Bandstand

Head of the Bay Bandstand
Clarence Shaw and Bill Slonecker were two men who were always promoters.  How about creating a street celebration to drum up business for Bill's new Home Cafe? It had opened in the Sweeney Block in February 1935.  (That was a large wooden building located in the empty spot just north of the Anthony's Restaurant at the head of the bay.)

Slonecker told Shaw, "Let's do something different than let our whiskers grow old, under duress." They decided to have a big party to dedicate the newly-built bandstand on July 20, 1935.

In the early 1930s, dances in Gig Harbor were held wherever a spot could be found.  In the summer, barges were brought in and tied up to the head of the bay. The adults danced as their children watched, and later falling asleep on the benches lining the dance floor. The solution was to build a bandstand.  It could be used for dances as well as concerts by local bands such as the VFW Band, the Olympic Band and the Peninsula Band.  It was quite a community effort.  Locals donated one to ten dollars, with the Austin Mill giving thirty.    

Shaw devised the idea of running roosters down the street.  The area was full of poultry farmers, and Shaw, being a Nebraska farm boy, knew they could really run if motivated.  He put out the call for roosters.

At first the duo thought about slipping a cut silk stocking over the birds so they wouldn't fly away.  But that just caused feathers to fly as the rooster went crazy being restricted. They settled on adding a red tag to the rooster tails.  That scares the rooster into thinking it must run away from it.   Also they could write a number on them for identification as well as motivating them to move along.   

The race course was a straight track just 40 yards long.  Nine men lined up across the street with their roosters.  The crowd stood on each side. The rules were the winner would be the first rooster to run, fly, hop, walk or skip into the net stretched across the street. 

The gun was fired!  And, not a rooster moved.  They just stood there.  

Their owners began to yell and wave their arms, pushing them along the street, running all the way down to the net.  The race ended with men and roosters all tangled in the net.  However, one rooster escaped all this excitement and wasn't found for days.  

It took quite a bit of discussion to determine the winner--Gertrude Hopkins' rooster. She was the wife of the Gig Harbor Postmaster.  The crowd loved it!  Shaw considered this original race a gift to the sporting world.  Unfortunately, we have no photos of the first race.

At First, the Roosterettes were called the Racing Rooster Girls
We do have a photo of another event of the day, the bathing beauty contest.  Pretty girls were always a part of a Shaw celebration.  There was also a baseball game between the Fats and the Leans. This year that was a men's baseball game.  The next year, the Fats and the Leans were women.  Imagine that terminology today!  

Each year, the races were bigger and better.  They continued until the state outlawed gambling on roosters in 1948, with time out for World War II. That didn't stop Shaw.  In 1951, he came up with the Round Rock Contest.  

Linda McCowen, Historic Photo Editor
© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

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