What Happened in New Bern in June
by Claudia Houston, New Bern Historical Society
New Bern loves to celebrate! Our history is replete with stories of parties, balls, parades, tournaments and festivals. On June 11, 1929 one such elaborate celebration occurred. What was so special about our 219th birthday?
The date was not especially significant, but the social and economic climate of the town was. The Roaring Twenties in New Bern was a time of optimism, idealism, and great economic growth. WWI was over, business was booming and New Bern was being touted as the ideal city to live, work and invest in, even being promoted as “The Land of Enchanting Waters.”
Twenty years prior, a young woman from Tennessee, Minnette Chapman, moved to New Bern as the young bride of Dr. Richard Duffy. She fell in love with New Bern and in 1923 organized and held the first meeting of the New Bern Historical Society in her home. During the 1920’s the Society grew and New Bernians began to develop a renewed interest in their past. In 1929, with Mrs. Duffy now the President of the New Bern Historical Society, plans were made for the June 11th “New Bern Historic Celebration and Pageant of 1929,” celebrating the history of the town.
Approximately 10,000 people attended the spectacularly successful event, including Governor O. Max Gardner and his wife, the Secretary of the Swiss delegation in Washington, DC, members of Congress, former Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, and descendants of Baron de Graffenreid, the founder of New Bern. On June 11 at 10:30am the Governor was greeted by a cannon salute and driven through the streets in an antique carriage.
A parade then ensued from George and Pollock Streets through the business and riverfront areas of the city. There were elaborate floats of all sizes depicting historical scenes from the past, with $200 in prize money being awarded for the best float. In the line of march came marshals on horseback, the Sudan patrol, the American Legion drum corps, Boy Scouts, city officials, fire department equipment, the crews of the Coast Guard cutters Apache and Pamlico along with many other groups, dignitaries and officials.
In late afternoon fourteen colonial homes, each with an American flag and soldier stationed outside, were open to visitors. At 8pm a historical review was held at Kafer Park. A crowd of 8,000 witnessed this event and the entire cast of 1,000 members participated in the last scene. A grand Colonial Ball then took place at 10 pm, also attended by the Governor.
The funding of the spectacular celebration also has special meaning in New Bern’s storied history. Mrs. Kate B. Reynolds of Winston-Salem underwrote the expenses for the parade and pageant, advancing $5000 for the event with the provision that any funds remaining be returned to her. After the event, $3500 was sent back to Mrs. Reynolds, who then returned the check as a donation “for the restoration of Tryon Palace.” Her very generous donation was the first such contribution to the thirty-year, multi-million-dollar effort, led by Mrs. Duffy, Miss Gertrude Carraway and several other visionaries. What a remarkable event and a pivotal time in New Bern’s history it was!