Fort Wurst: In Der Beginning Was Das Maifest

After a two-year pandemic-triggered hiatus, Fort Worth’s Mayfest is back (May 5-8) just in time to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary.

Mayfest was inaugurated on May 5, 1973, sharing the front page of the Star-Telegram with headlines about Watergate.

But before there was Mayfest in Trinity Park, hosted by Mayfest, Inc., there was Maifest in Hermann Park, hosted by the Railroad Boys’ Social Club. Before that, there was Maifest in Hermann Park, hosted by Sons of Hermann lodge. And before that, there was Maifest in Rosedale Pavilion and in Como Park, hosted by the Como Social Club. And before that, there was Maifest at Widmer’s Grove, hosted by Fort Worth’s Deutscher Verein German social club.

To tell our story, let us turn the cuckoo clock back to May 16, 1882:

An account of the “Mai-fest” hosted by Deutscher Verein in the 1882 Fort Worth Daily Democrat and Advance is the earliest I have found of a Mayfest in Fort Worth. The event featured speeches, music, fireworks, and a greased pig. Henry Furman was a local attorney. Among the event organizers was baker Herman Eberling. Adolph Widmer, proprietor of the Green Tree Saloon, lived near Pioneers Rest Cemetery.

mai-fest opens 5-2-90Fast-forward the cuckoo clock to 1888. That’s when the Como Social Club, another German social club, was formed in Fort Worth. On May 1, 1890 the club held its first Maifest at Rosedale Pavilion on Samuels Avenue, which was still outside the city limits. Mayfest is the traditional German celebration of the arrival of spring. Note that the May queen in 1890 was Emily Monnig of the department store family. Family patriarch Otto Monnig had been born in Germany. Como Social Club president Louis H. Schubert operated a saloon on Houston Street and a beer garden on Main Street. Clip is from the May 2 Gazette.

By 1891, these Gazette clips show, the Como Social Club had its own park. Note that among the principal beverages at the 1891 Maifest was the “ever famous” beer from Fort Worth’s own Texas Brewing Company (fifty-six kegs consumed) and that among the attractions and activities were a “jangoloo” (jangaloo is a Hindi word meaning “savage”), a sack race, an egg race, the champion pedestrian of the world, and a pantaletted donkey.

Como Park, not to be confused with the trolley park at Lake Como (created in 1890 as part of Humphrey B. Chamberlin’s development of Arlington Heights), was located in Riverside at the terminus of the Riverside streetcar line.

brewing 5-16-91Texas Brewing Company had opened just in time to wet whistles at the 1891 Maifest.

Meanwhile, Gazette ads of 1895 show, the Maifest marketing angle was not lost on local retailers.

By 1897, as this Register clip shows, the Sons of Hermann lodge was hosting its Maifest at its own park: fireworks, a hot-air balloon ascension, assorted races. The Fencibles and Loyd’s Rifles were local militia units.

hermann parkHermann Park (and beer garden) was located between the West Fork of the Trinity River and North Main Street at Northwest 2nd Street. Sons of Hermann had begun as a mutual protection society for German immigrants in 1840 in New York. The Fort Worth lodge hosted its Maifest in Hermann Park well into the twentieth century.

But by the turn of the century, as this 1901 Register clip shows, the Fort Worth branch of the Railroad Boys’ Social Club got in on the Maifestivities, hosting its own Maifest at Hermann Park. Prizes to race winners included a marriage license. The club had branches in other large cities such as San Francisco, San Antonio, and Atlanta.

wolters 5-19-12 stThis clip from the May 19, 1912 Star-Telegram shows that Sons of Hermann continued to host their Maifest at Hermann Park. Special guest that year was Colonel Jake Wolters, born in Texas of German ancestry. Wolters, an antiprohibitionist, would lose his U.S. Senate race to prohibitionist Morris Sheppard. On April 4, 1917—the day the U.S. Senate voted to declare war on Germany—Sheppard would introduce the Eighteenth Amendment, ushering in Prohibition in 1920.

In 1925 a new Army camp (later fort) near Mineral Wells would be named for—you guessed it—legislator and soldier Jacob Franklin “Jake” Wolters.

Schools also held their own Maifests.

The weather forecast for 2022’s Mayfest looks good. But it has not always been so.

If you were in Fort Worth in 1995 you remember the horrific hailstorm that battered Mayfest as an estimated ten thousand people gathered in Trinity Park on May 5. The Star-Telegram wrote:
“A massive thunderstorm packing softball-size hail and winds gusting to 70 mph whipped through Tarrant County at dusk yesterday, crushing roofs, smashing windows, and catching hundreds of Mayfest volunteers and participants unprotected along the Trinity River just west of downtown Fort Worth. Hundreds of people at Mayfest were treated for minor injuries. Four were critically injured when they were struck in the head by wind-driven hail, said Fort Worth fire Capt. T. M. Gilbreath.”
Looking back at the long history of Mayfest in Cowtown, perhaps we should not be surprised.

maifest 97 1916 As these clips show, since the nineteenth century Mother Nature has never let us forget that when it comes to blessing the spring event with gutes Wetter, she Mai, and then again she Mai not.

Cowtown at Play

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4 Responses to Fort Wurst: In Der Beginning Was Das Maifest

  1. Gail England says:

    Thank you for sharing this interesting information with us. I had no idea that the department store name Monning, where we sometimes shopped had a German heritage.
    Just add a little more flavor to what I know about Ft. Worth!!

  2. Jim Lasater says:

    I wonder how many participants there would be nowadays to sign up for the ” fat ladies” race?

    • hometown says:

      That’s why I love reading old newspapers, Jim. They were reporting everyday events, not retelling history after the fact, and they remind us of how much the world has changed in a short time.

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