Atkinson is celebrating their annual Hay Days celebration August 13-16. What makes this year unique is that this will be the town’s 75th celebration. Hay Days began in 1940 as a Diamond Jubilee celebration marking the town’s 60th year.
The event originated in two community organizations, the Atkinson Whisker Club and Whiskerettes. These individuals promoted the event throughout the summer of 1940, by dressing up in prairie day costumes and traveling to more than twenty area towns. They travelled with a band and small bales of hay that had the dates of Hay Days on them.
The group travelled by train when they could, and by cars where the train didn’t go. On some of these trips, the town of Atkinson actually closed so everyone could go.
Gary A. Lech of Atkinson was a young boy at the time of the first Atkinson Hay Days, but he still has fond memories of it. “They had a great time that summer and due to their efforts, Atkinson hung up a record of community cooperation, goodwill and favorable publicity that has never been equalled.”
A two mile long historical parade opened the celebration August 1st, 1940, and the prize winning float was a sod house built by Tony Burda. It was a model of the typical claim shanty that was common in the area during the 1800s.
According to Lech, “It was an actual soddy, built on an underslung pulled by a team of horses complete with the trappings and settler - even to the pile of cow chips for fuel.”
One of the unique items that is still currently featured at Atkinson Hay Days is a midget hay baler. This baler was built by Frank Deseive and Leo Kramer in the Kramer Welding Shop. Some of these miniature hay bales were sent across the country as souvenirs of the occasion.
There was a hay baling contest won by the Deseive brothers who baled 3,500 pounds of hay in 14 minutes, netting them a prize of $50. The members of the team were Joe Deseive, Ulysses Shane, Frank Deseive, Ed Deseive, and E. Shane.
The next year at Hay Days was also a success. Like the previous year there were a lot of people helping to promote the event. The Baler Club “invaded” Norfolk according to a 1941 article in the Norfolk Daily News. “Advertising their their Hay Days celebration August 4 and 5, approximately 250 residents including their popular seventy-piece band, twenty flag girls and members of the Baler club ‘captured’ Norfolk. . .”
At the 1941 celebration there was a parade with the theme of “So We Remember.” along with baseball games, an amateur broadcast show, hay baling contest, the Hay Queen coronation, dances and more. It was said that Nebraska Governor Dwight Griswold was a guest at that year’s celebration.
With such a unique start, Atkinson continues their historical Hay Days annually in early August. Check out the complete schedule of this year’s celebration at https://atkinsonhaydays.wix.com/atkinsonhaydays.
(Historical photos courtesy of Gary A. Lech.)