In 1935, Princess Gladys Handel Mettler took her seat in the royal court of Grape Festival Queen Marie Graffigna. During this year’s 75th festival anniversary, Mettler will once again sit among dozens of former festival queens and princesses.
“It’s going to be just like a class reunion,” organizer Donn Thompson said of the event.
It is the third time the Grape Festival has held such a reunion. The last was in 2007 and previously in 2002.
But this year’s is special as it is the festival’s 75th anniversary. The first festival was held in 1934, but for four years during World War II it was closed.
To begin with, the crowning of a queen and her court of princesses was not a beauty contest.
Instead, shoppers in downtown stores nominated a young woman to be in the court. The more money one spent, the more votes they got.
“The person who ended up with the most votes became queen, and the second person became princess,” said Thompson, a longtime festival director who also served as a parade chairman. In 1994, he became the Grape Festival Museum curator.
Mettler was among the first princesses in 1935 and will attend this year’s festivities which include a private luncheon in the Grape Festival pavilion.
Visitors will be able to see 41 different queen and princess dresses on display alongside authentic cars from each era.
“That could have been the automobile that carried the queen or princesses during the parade,” Thompson said.
An historical film on the Grape Festival will also be playing throughout Saturday afternoon, and just before the main stage entertainment, each attending queen and princess will be announced and receive a rose.
It was quite a feat contacting the women who were crowned from 1935 through 1981, when a queen was no longer chosen. Thompson said the competition had become too costly and there was a lack of interest.
The last queen was Angela Brusa who still in lives in Lodi and plans to attend this year’s reunion. Others will be traveling from all over the country, with the furthest coming from Missouri.
Brusa and her fellow former queens and princesses were contacted by Thompson’s committee using newspaper and magazine advertisements and calling people out of the phone book asking if they were related.
“Through word of mouth is how we got in touch with most of them,” Thompson said of the 125 to 130 women.
Each year, there was a queen and on average six princesses to round out the court.
In addition to riding in the annual Grape Festival parade, the winners served as festival ambassadors and traveled all over California promoting the event. They appeared on radio and TV.
“This is our way of honoring them and paying them back for all their months of service,” Thompson said of the reunion.
Outside of the luncheon, a lot of the courts will plan their own activities such as a picnic at Lodi Lake. On Sunday, a wine tasting will be held for all former queens and princesses and guests.
“It’s a great time to get together and learn about Lodi’s history with the old families,” Thompson said.