Bedford Explained: Bedford Day ~ How Did it Start, and Why?

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A Bedford Day parade – Image (c) Bedford Historical Society, all rights reserved

As The Bedford Citizen enters its sixth year we are bringing our readers a new feature called Bedford Explained.  “While I’ve lived in Bedford for over 25 years,” said author Gene Kalb, “there are things around town that have made me curious, but after seeing them so often those curiosities have become part of the scenery. But those things have a story, so The Bedford Citizen is working with the Bedford Historical Society to bring our readers explanations about those things that make us curious.” Do you ever wonder about something you see around town?  Email thebedfordcitizen@gmail.com and let us know or add your own memories of early Bedford Days in the comment section or on Facebook.

By Gene Kalb

A precursor to the present-day Bedford Historical Society float from an early parade – Image (c) Bedford Historical Society, all rights reserved

It’s that time of year again, Bedford Day.  A day where you learn all the things about Bedford you never knew.  There are kids, animals, trucks, food, and more.  I personally love the simultaneous joy of the children and the disappointment of the parents after the goldfish is won.  It’s always a lot of fun and I look forward to it every year.  But the “every year” part got me thinking?

What is the History of Bedford Day, how did it start and why?

So once again, off to the Bedford Historical Society to ask about Bedford Day.  It turns out the origins of Bedford Day are not all that clear.

Like most great traditions, things evolve.  There were several events that could be categorized as early Bedford Days.  But the modern incarnation is fairly recent.

The first recorded all town celebration was to commemorate the town’s sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) in 1879.   There is little known on how it was celebrated, my guess is no goldfish but it was the first known celebration of Bedford as a town that was recorded.

Image (c) Bedford Historical Society, all rights reserved

There were subsequent events for the 175th in 1904 and the bicentennial in 1929.   Not much happened after that until 1967.  In 1967 there is a mention of the Celebrations Committee celebrating the founding date of the town on September 23.   The following year there was an effort to get the local merchants involved as sponsors of the event.  Credit for these efforts to organize the merchants is given to two people, Mrs. George Haffermehl and Mrs.  Warren Lewellen.

The first mention of what I would consider the Bedford Day we know is in 1967.    You would be happy to know that even then, the dunking booth was a big draw.   In 1968 it was actually a two-day event, with a lot of evening activities the night before.  The day before featured:  a fashion show, a crowning of “Miss Bedford,” and a Bedford Day Ball sponsored by the Jaycees.

The Saturday of Bedford Day started with a Pancake Breakfast (of course), a parade, a cake decorating contest, and a 1729 themed costume contest.  There was also a road race as well as a water polo match between the fire and police departments.   The whole day ended with a Bean Dinner and a Block Dance for both teens and adults.

The location of the modern Bedford day has changed throughout the years.  In 1967 the booths were lined up on South Road, in front of the old Town Hall.   A lot of the activities took place on Bedford Common.  The Citizen of the Year was presented on the steps of the old Town Hall with booths lining the street.

It’s not clear to me the exact date of the move to its current location behind the Town Hall, but it’s safe to say it was sometime after the conversion and renovation of the building to its present use.

This is a brief history of the origins of Bedford Day, So when you hear the thud/splash/scream of the dunking tank, know that sound has been heard for a long time. Enjoy the day.

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth year of the Bedford Citizen. Its mission is simple: community news for the Bedford Community. Bedford is a great town and we’re lucky to live in this community.  The Bedford Citizen tries to add to the sense of community by keeping everyone informed about activities going on in and around Bedford.  We hope you appreciate The Bedford Citizen and hope you will donate so we can continue our mission. Thanks.