Kirby: Augusta once celebrated its ‘jollification’

The past is never where you think you left it.

 

– Katherine Anne Porter

Ed Cashin, Augusta’s famed historian, often commented on what he called our town’s sense of “ballyhoo.”

One of the best examples took place this month in 1922 with “Jollification Week,” a city festival, which its supporters bragged would put Mardi Gras in New Orleans to shame.

It is unclear who came up with the idea, but The Augusta Chronicle and its then-rival Augusta Herald were quickly on board. As The Chronicle editorially put it in May 1922, “We haven’t had a merry-maker get-together in some time.”

Augusta’s business community and civic clubs began to make plans, and the next five months featured regular accounts of meetings, fund-raising efforts and a variety of entertainment proposals.

“Thousands of Georgians are expected to pour into Augusta during the festival week,” the newspaper said and efforts were underway to raise the $10,000 it was all expected to cost.

Regular Augustans soon became interested in electing the queen of jollification. Her qualifications were simple – “the most attractive and popular girl in the city.”

She, in turn would choose her “king,” and both would preside over Jollification Week (which, over the summer months, had quietly been shortened to three days – Oct. 25, 26 and 27.)

Three queen candidates emerged as front-runners in the weekly voting: Annie Hays, Eleanor Schweikert and Elese Van Pelt. Hays, of the 400 block of Watkins Street, eventually won with more than 3,000 votes.

She selected Joseph McNeil, a “well-known young businessman” as her king.

The mayor and City Council gave them brief civic authority, allowing them to repeal curfew laws and to allow jaywalking on Broad Street.

On Oct. 25, the jollification began.

“From every town within a radius of 150 miles of Augusta, they poured into the city and were entertained by one of the most elaborate programs ever arranged in the South,” The Chronicle said. “Mardi Gras could not be mentioned in the same breath as Jollification Week.”

There were parades, dances, concerts, tight-rope walkers, singers … and all the commerce that went with them. “Often it was impossible to move one way or the other on Broad Street,” the newspaper said. The week ended with an outdoor ball around the 900 and 1000 blocks of Broad that lasted until a late (or early) hour.

What followed that? Several months of praise in the newspapers about the success of this civic masterpiece.

What didn’t follow? A second Jollification Week. The archives of The Chronicle are strangely mute.

Although the October 1922 effort was often praised, there does not seem to be any suggestion for an encore.

I guess you had to be there.

 

Reach Bill Kirby at bill.kirby@augustachronicle.com

 

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