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Gay Nineties Celebration

Our Past - Growing Up Here

Gay Nineties ImageI remember when I was going to Harvey Clarke Elementary School, getting ready for the Gay Nineties program, my class would practice singing our songs standing on the stage: “Down by the Old Mill Stream,” “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” “Shine On Harvest Moon,” “Take Me Out to The Ball Game,” “In My Merry Oldsmobile,” “On A Bicycle Built for Two,” and some others not stuck in my head at the moment.

Then on Friday all of us kids would get dressed up in our Gay Nineties clothes. I usually wore a long-sleeved shirt with sleeve garters, a vest, a derby hat, and fake moustache. My dad fixed up a chain with a pocket watch on one end, and a single-bladed flat pocketknife on the other. The chain was woven through a buttonhole in the vest with the watch in one vest pocket and the knife in the other. Later in my grade school years the old pocket watch was replaced with my grandfather’s pocket watch he brought over from Scotland in 1912. That was a very special time, and I made sure it was well protected. I have it today, and it still keeps good time!

As I grew older I realized there was much more going on for the Gay Nineties celebration besides the school programs and the parade. When I was able to start venturing out on my own, I’d ride my bicycle out to the armory for the Rock and Gem Show. I was into rocks back then, and that’s what my allowance was usually spent on. Walking around town with my friends, we’d look at the storefront windows decorated with temporary window paintings made by high school students, and most of them had displays depicting the late 1890s and early 1900s.

For some strange reason, I remember a treadle sewing machine in the Montgomery Ward store window. Treadle sewing machines weren’t all that common, but I had seen them before and knew what they were, but this one stuck in my brain, kind of like the songs I mentioned above. I was really excited to see this old sewing machine again when Friends of Historic Forest Grove received it as a donation!

One of my most special memories was when the Boot Hill Gang came into town. I don’t know who these guys were, or where they came from, but it was always exciting to have them join in on the celebration. A train would bring people out to Forest Grove from Portland for the day, and these visitors were treated to some excitement when the Boot Hill Gang would hold up the train, or stage a shootout after arriving in in town! Later in the day they would have another shootout up town or rob the bank, play money a-flying and guns blazing as they made their “get away.”

The National Guard would always have some jeeps and trucks in the parade along with a platoon marching and carrying the American flag. One time in the mid-1960s, they had a jeep with a pedestal-mounted .30 caliber machine gun in the parade. A Guardsman was standing behind the machine gun firing blanks during the parade. What great fun that was!  Evidently the soldiers were having way too much fun with machine gun belts of blanks left over from the parade as they headed back to the armory, shooting at cars in traffic. That was the first and last time the National Guard was issued any kind of ammunition for a parade.

Looking back, those were great times growing up in Forest Grove. There was some talk about trying to bring back the Gay Nineties celebration, but that hasn’t happened yet.  While talking with people who come to visit the OTS and showing them our Gay Nineties collection, they all ask why this citywide celebration was discontinued. I wish I knew the answer to that question.

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Skip Buhler

About Skip Buhler

I have been interested in Forest Grove's history since moving here ca. 2007 (it was probably 2006, but as I spend most of the time in the nineteenth century, I'm not exactly sure when I arrived). Since then, I have been actively researching the people and places that make this region such a great place. I first got involved with FHFG in 2011 or so, and have served as Board Secretary since 2012. I'm one of the main contacts with the public, which I really enjoy, and I volunteer on Wednesdays at the Old Train Station, where I get to help people with their own research. It is truly a joy to share my love for this town with others, and learn from the people who were born and raised here. I recently learned that a branch of my family (actually my Grandma's great grandparents) settled in the mountains near McMinnville around 1880, so I've been spending my personal time researching these ancestors. I'm an independent art historian, and also have a vinyl record store in town, where my interests in art and history converge.