At 10 a.m. on May 25, 2012, Swan Lake Iris Gardens will once again throw open its gates for the Sumter Iris Festival, a community tradition since 1940. Folk and fine arts, a vast array of merchandise, refreshments, non-stop entertainment and all sorts of fun family activities will keep the gardens humming nonstop until Sunday afternoon. With free admission and a forecast for the best festival weather we’ve had in quite a while, it’s time to get out and enjoy the beauty of the iris gardens, check out some unique shopping and—it always happens—run into friends that you may not have seen for years.
A multiple award-winning event, the first Iris Festival was held on May 24, 1940. Hosted by the Kiwanis Club and planned by J.J. Brennan and Cliff Brown, it included events that we still enjoy today, such as a parade and the presentation of the Iris Queen and King. In addition, the organizers hosted a swimming contest at Pocalla Springs, a May Day party (hosted by the Sumter YWCA) and a formal ball at the Armory. The next year, planning and hosting responsibilities were assumed by the Sumter Chamber of Commerce. Following some upheaval during WWII, the Festival was reinstated in 1947, and by 1948 had become known as “the South’s most colorful floral festival.” Head of the planning committee was the manager of Sumter’s first radio station (remember AM radio?), 1290 WFIG, whose call letters stood for “World Famous Iris Gardens,” and the Grand Marshal of the 1948 Iris Festival Parade was then-Governor Strom Thurmond.
(BTW, radio and television station call letters usually stand for something, no matter how random it may seem. For example, did you know that WIS-10 stands for “Wonderful Iodine State”? Strange, but true!)
Anyway, it makes the mind reel, imagining that an event of this magnitude was planned and brought to life by just a handful of people. By 1949, the organizers realized that the festival was becoming bigger than them, and appointed a 15-member Steering Committee. Today’s Iris Festival Commission consists of a similar number of members, and they spend ten months each year planning a festival that will be bigger and better than all those that preceded it—and that is no small task!
Come out and enjoy the tastes and treats of a community tradition that attracts visitors from across South Carolina and many other states—and be sure to stop in at the Swan Lake Visitors Center, both for additional information on Sumter’s many attractions and events, and the Tuomey Health Care-sponsored health screening on Friday (9 to 11 a.m.), followed by a fantastic quilt display on Saturday and Sunday (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) For more info, please log on to www.irisfestival.org.
We hope to see you this weekend!