McLOUD — People crowded the sides of Broadway Avenue in downtown McLoud on Saturday as the town celebrated its annual Blackberry Festival and Parade.
Sirens from emergency vehicles blared, cowboys on horseback trotted down the street and waving pageant queens threw candy, all to rhythms from the high school band.
Debbie George, a McLoud Chamber of Commerce member, is the festival coordinator. She is from California, and has lived in McLoud for five years. She chose to volunteer to coordinate the event as a way to get closer to her new community.
For George, the small-town feel found in McLoud is something she used to think could only reside in fiction.
“You watch all those movies and you think, ‘Oh, I would love to live in a small town,'” George said. “Well, here you go, this is it — where you know your neighbors and get to know their kids and watch everybody grow up. It's great.”
Though the celebration often is seen as an extended Fourth of July, the blackberry is still a major part of the festivities. 400 pounds of blackberries were purchased by the city for the festival. The self-proclaimed blackberry capital of the world, McLoud once counted on the fruit as a key part of its economy. Now, blackberries are brought in from out of town.
While McLoud may no longer be offering homegrown fruit, George says another thing is now on display at the festival — civic pride.
“I think it's really important for McLoud,” she said, “it gives them an opportunity to showcase our local people and our local bands and our girls that run in the pageant. It lets everyone know this is a great place to live.”
Howard Rooker spent all Saturday at the Blackberry Festival. It's an event he's very familiar with since he's been attending the midsummer festival for about 80 years.
“It started out up there on Main Street as a street dance,” he said. “Then in the '40s they went to raising blackberries.”
Rooker has lived in McLoud all his life and remembers the days when blackberries were the town's cash crop. He started picking blackberries in 1944 when he was 12 on his father's farm. Rooker even remembers sending a shipment of blackberries to Harry Truman, the 33rd U.S. president.
Rooker isn't sure why the town stopped growing blackberries, but his wife, Peggy, thinks it might have something to do with a lack of willing workers.