...U.S. Library of Congress Recognition
Editor Note: Through the years, the Melrose Chamber of Commerce has played a vital part in promoting the business community and helping to make Melrose a better place in which to live. This includes sponsoring of many events during the year, such as the Victorian Fair, "Home for the Holidays" weekend, Halloween celebrations and the "Adopt-A-Site" beautification program throughout the city. We are delighted to congratulate the Chamber and the Mayor in learning that the Melrose Victorian Fair has been selected to be part of the Local Legacies project as designated by the Library of Congress. Described below are excerpts from the project paper prepared by Elizabeth McNelis, Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce and Linda Botte O'Koniewski - community activist, local realtor and life-long resident of Melrose.
This year the Fair is scheduled for Sunday, September 10, with the SilverStringers and the Council on Aging both taking part. We urge everyone, young and old, to save that special day for the Melrose Victorian Fair. It will be a fun time in a great town.
The Melrose Victorian Fair to be Documented and Preserved for Future Generations
By Elizabeth McNelis
Congressman Edward Markey, together with Mayor Patrick Guerierro, Chamber of Commerce President John Connery and Executive Director Elizabeth Wayland McNelis are proud that the Victorian Fair will represent Melrose in the national Local Legacies project of the Library of Congress Bicentennial Celebration.
The Local Legacies project is designed to document and pay tribute to the nation's rich cultural heritage. The Library of Congress is fostering community projects to ensure that future generations will have access to important cultural "snapshots" of American tradition, folklore and everyday life.
The Melrose Victorian Fair, sponsored by the Melrose Chamber of Commerce, has been a major hometown event for the past 19 years. It is a day-long celebration. When the Fair began in 1981, it was intended to bring community attention to the city's renovated downtown area. Newly installed Victorian lampposts highlight the prominent architecture and rich heritage of Melrose. From the first year's launch to its subsequent successes year after year, the Victorian Fair has become a beloved community tradition. It continues to bring local businesses, organizations and Melrose residents together.
The Fair is held each year in mid-September, just in time for the beautiful New England fall foliage. Beginning at dawn on the morning of the Fair, volunteers transform downtown Melrose into a festive corridor. A two-block section of the quaint Main Street retail hub is closed to make way for the booths that will line the street on both sides. A stage area is created in the middle of the fair where MMTV, the Melrose local access television station, films the entertainment and Fair happenings throughout the day. Canopied booths delight fairgoers with crafts, give-aways, mini-golf, caricature drawings, face painting, games of chance, a dunk-tank and information about different civic, health and non-profit organizations. Scrumptious aromas fill the air while local restaurants prepare tasty samplings for the over 15,000 people who will roam the downtown area. The day's gala celebration is brought to a grand climax with the drawing of the Chamber's "Big Ticket" Raffle prizes. Fairgoers, volunteers and business owners alike are united by the annual rekindling of the Yankee small-town community spirit fostered by the Melrose Victorian Fair, a true New England tradition.
Revisiting the Victorian Theme
Melrose prides itself on its Victorian heritage. Around 1845, the Boston and Maine Railroad laid tracks north of Boston and the community of Melrose was caught in a storm of expansion and development. Because the expansion took place in the late 19th century, a good number of the houses built were of Victorian architecture. There are many fine examples of Colonial Revival, Gothic, Revival, Italianate, Mansard, Queen Anne, Stick, and Shingle styles (taken from "This is Melrose" 1995 edition).
Little Ladies Victorian Parade
In 1996, a children's Victorian costume parade was organized by resident Beth McNelis, who desired to have more "Victorian" in the Victorian Fair. The parade was called the "Little Ladies Victorian Parade" on its debut, but the following year the name was changed to include boys and was called the "Little Folks Victorian Parade." Approximately 30 to 40 children, aged four to twelve, participate each year. Prizes are awarded in three categories: authenticity, creativity, and all-around most adorable. Three judges pick the prize winners after the promenade down Main Street from City Hall to the entertainment stage at the corner of Main and West Foster Streets.
The vitality and appeal of the Melrose Victorian Fair assures its existence for many years to come. It has served as an important local legacy of the city of Melrose and it's sponsor, the Melrose Chamber of Commerce. This small city with only about 800 businesses has a vital business organization with an emphasis on community participation. It strives to invest its resources (both financial and human) to community projects that increase the visibility of Melrose businesses while making Melrose a better place in which to live and work. Because the Victorian Fair fulfills the purpose and objective of the Melrose Chamber of Commerce and remains a strong fund raising source, this event will most likely continue to grow in scope and number of participants in the decades to come. Melrose loves its Victorian Fair!
The Spirit of Melrose's Victorian Fair
By Linda Botte O'Koniewski
Smell the Italian cuisine on one corner, enjoy oysters and clam chowder on the next block, and notice the police engaging youngsters and teenagers in conversation while politicians roam the street glad-handing anyone in their reachable radar. On this one spectacular day of the year (and only once due to a Hurricane has the weather been uncooperative that it has ever been postponed) virtually every citizen comes out to engage with neighbors and find out what is going on in town. Every community group imaginable creates a presence and sells raffle tickets, hands out literature and talks to the locals about what they are doing -- often asking for help or volunteers or money to help support their efforts. Of the dozens of events in Melrose ranging from evenings at the local symphony, enjoying the Arts Festival, galas, dances, school events, musicals, sporting activities and big football, basketball or hockey games, only one is the quintessential experience for the community: The Melrose Victorian Fair.
Where else can you sign up for Little League, have a massage, watch the mayor or police chief get dunked in the water tank for local charity, buy the latest CD featuring the Melrose Overture from the local symphony, play a wheel game designed by a local Realtor, enjoy the dancing of local students (from traditional Irish to ballet and jazz), watch local Kung Fu artists break boards and cement blocks and talk to all your neighbors, former school chums and the local bank teller who has been liberated from the bank and is sporting full Victorian costume?
The first experience many children have gaining freedom from their parents is at the Victorian Fair where they are allowed to wander the festival and spend their money on penny candy and useless toys their parents will soon throw out.
The Victorian Fair serves so many purposes. Disguised as a trade show for the Chamber of Commerce, locals may notice the snow blowers in front of the hardware store in September and come back to buy one come the first snowfall. The women's boutique sports a fashion show of high-end clothing and the Melrose Army and Navy showcases the latest trends in teenage garb. Insurance companies, the YMCA, local realtors and hairdressers join the pizza parlors, trendy restaurants and nail salons setting up booths and displays to capture the attention of passers-by. Local restaurant owners remark that it is the busiest night of the year because so many people commit to spending more time downtown and they start by going out to dinner that night. (There has been no time to shop and prepare dinner on Victorian Fair day. Mom volunteered at the school booth and sold wrapping paper to support the new computer lab. Dad was busy working for one of the candidates while Suzy ran the road race and kept up with the school superintendent. Her brother dressed in period Victorian costume and took home a ribbon for his efforts.)
The timing of the Victorian Fair in September makes it ripe for politicians to sell themselves and enthusiasts of various causes and ballot questions to garner support before the November election.
Like a giant cocktail party without the alcohol, no better opportunity presents itself throughout the year to talk to acquaintances and friends. Just about everyone you know in town will be cruising the streets looking to engage in conversation. Clusters of teenagers wander around sporting the latest hair color fad and face painting on their cheeks and talk to the Emergency Medical Technicians who are giving tours of ambulances. Every youth sport presents itself to families in town with opportunities to clock the speed of your pitch, buy raffle tickets to help seed the soccer field, or be reminded via a leaflet that you can have your car washed to support the girls swim team. Pony rides, carousels, arts and crafts projects and games beckon for those inclined to play. The local hospital does free blood pressure and various health screening tests, while the firefighters invite children into their "Safe House" to teach them how to react and protect themselves in case of fire.
Inevitably, many who have passed the day at the fair have seen so many people they know and want to capture the community spirit they experienced during the fair again. Volunteerism is still a trademark of this frugal Yankee town and the need to get things done on a small budget creates the bonds that strengthen this community. The dynamic energy of those who work and attend the fair reflects this city's schools, churches, temple and organized groups in a way that calls people to join and help. Even in suburban Boston, the flavor of old-town America wafts in and captures the hearts and souls of the community, at least for a day.