It wasn't supposed to turn out that way. The 1895 Rose Festival was a perfect example of a Victorian American community celebration and afterward was considered a great success, drawing visitors from all over the West Coast, including the mayor of San Francisco and the Governor. It was viewed as being something like Santa Rosa's coming out party.

Hundreds of our ancestors dived in to make that Rose Carnival (its real name) a success through diligent planning and hard work. It also had a major boost because all of the major San Francisco newspapers - the Chronicle, Examiner and Call - touted it as they might a must-see gala happening in their own city. There were full-page features and front page updates over several days. All papers sent artists here to sketch the street scenes and people involved, and as a result it's the best visually documented glimpse we have from 19th century Santa Rosa. Below are a sampling of the drawings which appeared in SF newspaper articles.

Those 1895 doings were also surprising because the previous Rose Carnival in 1894 was remarkable only in that Santa Rosa was able to pull off anything at all. There were less than three weeks from when that one was proposed to the day of the parade. The idea that year was to draw visitors from the "Midwinter Exposition" which was kind of a World's Fair being held in Golden Gate Park.

This time the festivities would stretch over three days in May, Wednesday through Friday. Today we might expect a town celebration like that to be scheduled for a weekend, but in those times Saturday was the big market day, when farmers shopped in town and stores stayed open late. On the last day there was to be a high-profile race (which would mean gambling) and heaven forfend such a thing happen on the same day we were all supposed to be piously sitting in pews.

Newspapers began whipping up interest weeks before the carnival. Their main focus was on the Carnival Queen competition, which gave editors an excuse to print lots of portraits of pretty women. The papers framed it as a beauty contest, cheering for different favorites to win.

Over 7,000 votes were cast at 10¢ per, and during the final hours ballot boxes were stuffed with envelopes containing up to $100. Isabel Donovan won with 4,610 votes. She was a leader in planning this carnival and the one before; she was also a working woman (general manager of the Sunset Telephone Company's office in Santa Rosa) and unlike other nominees, wasn't part of the society clique.

The publicity spotlight was also on cycling, and not just the race held on the final day. John Sheehy's Petaluma Historian blog has a great essay on the 1890s bicycle craze and our Santa Rosa Wheelmen Club invited other clubs large and small. The Democrat reported the head of the Reliance club of Oakland vowed their group "...with its large contingent of lady bicyclists, will come up in a body to our Rose Carnival if invited. It is the boss club of the State, and will come uniformed and all together on wheels....Just think of it, one hundred and fifty gentlemen and ladies to enter the town on wheels escorted by our local wheelers, won’t it be a fine sight?"

The rest of this article can be read at the website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at - Jeff Elliott

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