Thirty-three years ago, in 1988, the City of Slidell celebrated its 100th year, its Centennial. While community participation got off to a slow start, once the creative thinking started, a number of clubs, organizations and businesses got involved, and the event became a historic occasion, literally.
In March of 1987, the citizens and leaders of Slidell began "brain-storming" ideas for the community's Centennial celebration, coming up in November of 1988.
On August 29, 1987, it was reported in the Times Picayune that ideas were being floated for an all-encompassing spectacle. Mayor Sam Caruso turned down an idea to join the celebration with the City of Waveland, Miss., Centennial, since both towns were incorporated in 1888. Slidell was going to have its hands full with its own local goings-on.
The mayor also downplayed a proposal to have the city's restauranteurs come up with a centennial drink and centennial menu. Also discussed was a poster design contest and a Centennial 10K race. The poster design contest idea was well-received.
Among the events proposed was a Slidell Jazz Festival to be sponsored by the Slidell Young Men's Business Association.
In November of 1987, the Centennial "calendar" was published as a joint project of the Slidell Art League and the Friends of the Slidell Library. "Slidell's 100-year history comes alive in pictures and words throughout the wall calendar," a Times Picayune news article of the time reported.
Each month on the calendar featured sketches of old Slidell and paragraphs describing community life in early times. Historical notes graced the pages of the calendar, including some little known events from long ago.
Here's a clipping from the article. Click on the image to make it larger:
A drawing of Mrs. Taylor's Boarding House was featured in the Slidell Centennial Calendar.
The calendars were sold for $9 each at the Slidell library and quickly became collector's items.
The Pace Picks Up
When 1988 arrived, Slidell stepped up its Centennial-themed activities. A wide variety of activities and special events continued to be held.
The Greater Slidell Council of Garden Clubs held its annual Standard Flower Show at the municipal auditorium, and students in Corinne Eliason's fifth-grade class at Brock Elementary presented drawings of the "Hope Stewart Oak Tree" in Slidell to help celebrate the show's theme "Our Heritage - 100 Years of Natural Beauty." This was done in honor of the upcoming Slidell Centennial.
In March, the Jackson Symphony Orchestra gave a concert sponsored by the Slidell Symphony Society at the municipal auditorium. The event ended the 26th season for the society and was also dedicated to the Slidell Centennial celebration.
In April there was the Miss Slidell Centennial Pageant, with Susan Joyce winning the crown at the Slidell Municipal Auditorium festivities. The event was sponsored by the Slidell Newcomers Club, with proceeds going to the "Build a Better City" program. According to a news item from the time, other pageant winners included Baby Miss Alex Summers, Toddler Miss Brittany Monnin, Tiny Miss Tara Gates, Little Miss Mandy Mascaro, Young Miss Jennifer Penton, and Junior Miss Ashley Hutchinson.
From the Times Picayune April 12, 1988
The title winner in the Ms. Slidell Centennial competition was Joyce Gibbs, with Emma DeVellier as first alternate.
Build A Better City Program
Proceeds from local bingo games were also donated to the Commission for its "Build a Better City" program, which was commended for its work in coordinating volunteers who painted and repaired 21 houses for elderly and poor residents during the year. Local high school students took part in the "Build a Better City" program to help paint and perform varied maintenance work on the homes. The program was sponsored by the Slidell Centennial Commission and the Slidell Newcomers Club.
In July the Slidell Centennial Celebration was spotlighted by the Slidell Jaycees as part of their annual July 4th "Freedom Fest" event in John Slidell Park. There were craft displays, a fireworks display, and midway carnival rides. The celebration was also sponsored by the Slidell Memorial Hospital and Medical Center as well as other local businesses.
In August of the Centennial year, plans were made to erect a public monument in commemoration of Slidell's 100th year. A Virginia brick sculptor was going to be brought in to build a 12-foot tall brick sculpture carved with scenes from Slidell's past.
Excitement ramped ever upward as more plans were made for the event. A centennial-themed Trade Fair was held in late September, sponsored by the Greater Slidell Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Martin Marietta Corp. donated $1000 to the Slidell Centennial Commission for its expenses in putting on the extravaganza. The donation matched $1000 which had been gathered from throughout the community. Slidell land developer Louis G. "Pat" Miramon Jr. also donated $1000 to the city's Centennial Commission to help meet expenses.
There were even plans made for a Centennial Bowling Classic.
Early in September, it wasn't certain whether there would be a Centennial parade or not, but things came together at the last minute, and a parade was scheduled for November 6. Parade riders would threw traditional Mardi Gras beads and trinkets, as well as "official" Slidell Centennial plastic cups, described as white-rose-and-green plastic printed with Slidell's official flower, the camellia. The parade showcased about 50 units: floats, bands, dance teams, and marching groups.
Parade floats were sponsored by the chamber of commerce, the centennial commission, the Slidell Evening Lions and Lionesses, the Slidell Women's Civic Club, the Olde Town Merchants Association, the Les Amies Civic Club and the mayor and his family.
In September the Slidell Junior Auxiliary firmed up its plans for the Nov. 13 Slidell Centennial Picnic at John Slidell Park. Hot dogs and popcorn would be available, but members of the public were encouraged to bring their own baskets full of goodies and "make it like an old-fashioned picnic," according to Judy Curry, co-chairwoman for the picnic.
In October the St. Tammany Porcelain Art Club held a "Slidell Centennial" show and sale of hand painted china. Also in October, a centennial "beard-growing contest" was announced, with the best beards to be judged at the Nov. 13 picnic.
A competitive poster contest brought in a lot of entries. The "Slidell 100" Poster contest was won by Carol Madison, who received a $500 prize for her work. "Her colorful design best represented a celebration of Slidell's 100 years of growth and progress," according to the judges. The poster was on the cover of the Times-Picayune's tabloid special section on the Centennial published October 16, and copies of the poster were sold at the Slidell Chamber of Commerce office.
The poster contest was sponsored by Slidell Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge and the Slidell Centennial Commission. The contest was administered by Suzanne Parsons, director of the Slidell Commission on the Arts.
A Slidell Centennial Square Dance Festival was held November 11 and 12, 1988, at the Slidell Municipal Auditorium.
The mayor invited each school in the Slidell area to prepare a list of every student, administrator and faculty member to be placed in a time capsule to be opened on the city's 150th birthday in the year 2038. Letters were to be written by the students and addressed to the citizens of Slidell in 2038 and 2088.
The time capsule, made by Martin Marietta Michoud Aerospace, was packed with thoughtful notes and remembrances at the Nov. 13 grand finale picnic, then sealed.
The Main Event
The big day, November 13, brought 3000 people to John Slidell Park, to celebrate, and it all started with the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag and the singing of the Star Spangled Banner. Slidell City Judge Gus Fritchie told of the history of the town, which had grown from a railroad town "known for its saloons" to the suburban home for thousands of commuters.
The Municipal Arts Association band gave a performance at the centennial festival, and that day's picnic included school bands, dance teams, a color guard and a balloon launch. The Slidell Pops Orchestra's concert led up to the lighting of 100 candles on a special Slidell birthday cake. Then came the fireworks.
Among the events on the schedule were a cricket race with 4000 crickets, a contest tent, an entertainment tent with storytellers and puppet shows, a space industry display by Martin Marietta, and the first annual Slidell Horseshoe Contest. The news article didn't explain whether that was about tossing horseshoes or actually shoeing horses.
The cricket race featured one inch long six week old "fast-crawling crickets" which were donated by Flucker's Cricket Farm outside of Baton Rouge. It was the highlight of the day.
To get the local politicians even more involved than they already were, the Slidell Junior Auxiliary organized games to pit City Council members and teams of their friends and constituents up against each other as a "form of entertainment" for picnic participants.
"Our town politicos will be testing each other's skills at bean spitting, hoola hooping, bubble gum blowing and sack race hopping," a news item reported. "Not to be left out, Mayor Caruso suggested that his office also compete. A tug-of-war was held, which turned out embarrassing for the losing team, but it was all in fun. Each area high school was asked to send teams to take part in their own tug-of-war, tricycle relay, wheelbarrow contest, and sack race.
The Quilted Guest Book
A special quilt design commemorating the centennial was made by Virginia Freeman. It was used as the cover for a special guest book that visitors to the November 13 picnic were able to "sign" if they wished. All visitors were encouraged to sign the "historic guest book" and have their names become a part of Slidell's recorded history.
The 18 inch by 24 inch book had every page covered in fabric, in fact, intricately hand-stitched and detailed, according to a news item from the event.The Slidell Museum planned to put it on display after the picnic.
The Centennial Commission in October of 1988 approved the placement of the "more permanent memorial" of a historical marker to be placed in front of the Municipal Auditorium. It was later re-located to the front corner of City Hall.
The wording for the Slidell Centennial Historical Marker was approved by the Centennial Commission in May of 1987. It was to say "City of Slidell Centennial, Nov. 13 1888 - Nov. 13, 1988. Named for diplomat and U.S. Senator John Slidell of Louisiana by son-in-law Baron Frederic Erlanger, one of the financiers of New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad. Incorporated Nov. 13, 1888. Sponsored by the Citizens of Slidell."
The historical marker cost around $900, it was said.
The North Shore Square Mall underwrote the creation of a special song in honor of the Slidell Centennial. Entitled the "Camellia City March," it was performed by the Dixieland Jazz Band at the mall's center court. The song was also performed at the Nov. 13 picnic at John Slidell Park.
What did commission officials do with the $2500 that was left over in the treasury after the event? Five hundred dollars of it went to the Slidell Police Reserve, who provided security at the parade and picnic events, and $2000 went to the Slidell Commission on the Arts which was planning to use it to renovate the old Slidell library.
The Centennial did bring together for an official formal portrait the current mayor and two previous mayors of Slidell.