Santa-Cali-Gon Days is a Labor Day tradition in Independence that’s run steadily for four decades, but the first festival was 75 years ago. Some involved with the festival are gathering up items to highlight that history.
“ ... it would be nice to continue to collect the mementos that we have,” said Lois McDonald, vice president of community development for the Independence Chamber of Commerce and the main organizer of the festival.
Exhibit A is a video – a home movie, really – from the 1947 event, the second time it was held. The first was in 1940, and then it’s been held every year since 1973.
The Jackson County Historical Society says the 1947 film was shot by Borden Sudbrock, an amateur photographer who lived in Independence. His home movies ended up with a nephew, historian and Independence resident Paul Nagel, who died four years ago. Nagel left the film with the Historical Society, which has had it restored and has posted it at jchs.org.
“It’s a great film,” said McDonald.
Local filmmaker Jefferson Lujin is cutting the film down to about five minutes for the Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors Santa-Cali-Gon, to put on its festival website. Plans also include putting it on City 7.
“It’s really an interesting snapshot of Independence at the time,” Lujin said.
“It’s a pity there’s no audio,” he added.
It’s 17 minutes long, silent and mostly in black and white. There are a lot of everyday faces – men often wore ties and hat, women wore dresses – and lots of characters. Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt make appearances, as do mountain men and several people in native American attire.
“I love the costumes and the feather headdresses,” McDonald said.
Most of the footage is of a parade with covered wagons drawn by oxen and mules, a stagecoach, high school marching bands – one from as far away as Leavenworth – old cars, and lots of people on horseback. One covered wagon says “American Pioneer Trails Association,” and one car – “Sudora Beauty Shop” – carries what appear to be beauty pageant contestants.
The Bundschu Building appears prominently, and that would put some of the parade on Main Street. Sudbrock also appears to have been at Maple and Osage, shooting the parade coming west on Maple.
Sudbrock also shot people, in period attire or not, who he caught up with and got to pose for a few seconds. One appears to be June Russell, who was one of three festival queens in 1947, in a long, dark dress.
She told The Examiner last year that she had a great time at the festival.
“What impressed me was not only how nice the people were but the participation. ... People were into it,” she said.
The end of the film is in color.
“That was pretty rare,” Lujin said.
There’s another video, too, about 45 seconds from 1940 from a Universal Newsreel with the dateline of “Independence, Mo.” and the heading “Santa-Cali-Gon Fete Celebrates The Pioneer Days.” On YouTube, search for Santa-Cali-Gon ( http://youtu.be/Rjl4QM4X7xo ). It also shows a parade that appears to travel on Main, Lexington and Maple. At one point, it goes past the old S.S. Kresge store.
A program from that 1940 event lists the Old Settlers’ Parade as occurring on the afternoon of Monday, Oct. 14. There were cash prizes, and schools were invited to enter and “as many children as possible are to be costumed as old settlers, hunters, trappers, Indians, etc.” That festival also had other parades, including a Ladies Costume Parade and an Old Settlers’ Mammoth Animal Drawn Vehicle Parade.
That first event was held Oct. 14-16 – a Monday through Wednesday – and the program promised “Three Gigantic Days!” It stated that the festival’s purpose was to commemorate the Santa Fe, California and Oregon Trails, all of which started or passed through the city.
There were stage coach rides, a wild West show, a rodeo and an antique show. The County Historical Society offered historical tours.
And there was dancing.
“Broadcasting Station KITE, the friendly voice of Kansas City and Independence, will present thirteen hours of continuous dancing from 11 a.m. until midnight (or later),” the program said, with “the finest old time fiddle bands” and others in the “big red barn” on the west side of the Square.