It's the first day of May and around Neosho, spring is blossoming. Dating back to Medieval times, celebrations to welcome spring have been traditionally held in May, often on the first day of the month. Two customs - delivering May baskets to doorsteps and dancing around a maypole - were both once part of the festivities.
In Neosho, a May Festival was once a major spring event and it featured maypole dancing in Big Spring Park.
According to local history, the first May Festival was held on May 14, 1915.
A clipping from the files of the Neosho Daily Democrat on that date described the event:
"Today was certainly a “red letter day” for the schools of Neosho and Newton County. The forenoon was given over to the May Festival by the pupils of the High, Central, Field and Benton schools. The parade at 10 o’clock was one of the largest and most beautiful ever witnessed here. Probably 1,000 pupils and teachers were in line and the parade was almost a mile in length. About fifty young men with a mounted flag bearer and the Neosho Band headed the parade — followed in order by Heralds, Marshals, Seasons in Costume, 12 Months in Costumes, Birds from Benton, President of Girls Club with Crown and Scepter bearers, 4 Maids of Honor, Queen of May, Pages, 4 Maids of Honor, May Pole dancers, Dutch girls, Colonial dancers, everyone with flowers for tributes. The costumes, flowers and decorated autos were indeed beautiful. One of the prettiest sights of all was 100 little tots, both boys and girls, from 6 to 8 years of age. The program as announced was carried out at the City Park and a very large crowd was present. This included the crowning of the May Queen, Colonial Minuet and May Pole Dance, many songs, games, dances and drills.”
The tradition continued after that gala event and in 1932, the May Festival became an annual event for the Neosho Public Schools. The festival stopped in 1941 and resumed after World War II in 1948. The last was held in 1951.
Maypole dancing is depicted in the mural painted by local artist Jeff Jones on display at First Community Bank on the Neosho Square.A maypole was traditionally a tree, tree trunk, or pole which was decorated with a series of long, brightly colored ribbons twined around the pole in patterns by boys and girls.May Day - complete with maypole dancing - is still held in many parts of the United States and Europe.
The custom of maypole dancing and the celebration of May Day diminished after another holiday was also observed on May 1 - to some May Day is International Workers Day, a day set aside to commemorate labor and the workforce. The day dates back to May 1, 1886 when 200,000 working men held a strike for a nationwide 8-hour day.
Today, only a few photos, descriptions and memories remain of the May Festivals once held at Big Spring Park. Current residents can only imagine the festivities and the fun of an earlier time.