Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.

FRONTIER DAYS PRECEDED FESTIVAL OF THE FORKS

Albion Recorder, September 12, 1997, pg. 4.

With our Festival of the Forks coming up on September 20, these next two weeks I would like to feature a couple of Festival-related articles. In the early 1960s, Albion was searching for an annual festival to bring the community together. The theme tried in 1965 and 1966 was a three-day festival entitled "Frontier Days." Held in the spring, it featured an "old West" theme, with cowboys, horses, covered wagons and oxen, lassoes, etc. You get the picture. Included was a talent show, displays, a "jail" for merchants who didn’t dress as cowboys, a queen’s court, and other activities. Frontier Days was planned to provide a spirit of celebration and unity, and of course to bring in a shopping bonanza to downtown merchants.

The "grand finale" which took place during the 1966 event was an auction held on May 21 at 8 p.m. in the vacant lot on W. Center St. across from the Albion Evening Recorder. During the months of March and April, citizens would receive "Frontier Money" when they shopped at participating local businesses, equivalent to the nearest dollar amount they spent at the store. For example, if you purchased $7 in groceries at the A & P on S. Eaton St., you would receive $7 in Frontier Money.

The money measured 108 x 68 mm., and was printed with green ink on white paper. Various denominations were issued. Many people were able to accumulate anywhere from $100 to $300 worth of this money as a result of their routine spending in Albion, and anticipated being able to purchase something with it at the auction.

They were to experience an unpleasant surprise. One of this author’s vivid memories as a 13-year old youth in Albion is this auction, as he had approximately $400 of Frontier Money, having collected it from various sources over the preceding months. We all had visions of being able to buy something nice, there being numerous items which were to be auctioned off, such as shirts, socks, radios, shoes, and other items. The "top prizes" were a color television set and a bicycle built for two.

When the auction started at 8 p.m. people were anxiously awaiting the chance to participate. Unfortunately, most people didn’t get a chance to bid in the auction. What happened was the bidding was astronomically high. The auctioneer started the bidding high, too, for example, a pair of socks would sell for $2,000, a radio for $7,000, etc. The majority of common folk only had from $100 to $400. Complaints soon arose from the crowd. This writer vividly remembers numerous men and women yelling, "How come you don’t let the rest of us buy something?" Another memory is of one man on the east side of the crowd excitedly yelling, "I’ll give $7,000! I’ll bid $8,000!," and on he went. Where did he get all that Frontier Money? Another memory is of one chain-smoking woman in the crowd who smoked cigarette after cigarette the entire time. She wouldn’t move and polluted the air all around her, even though numerous persons asked her to stop.

In reality, the only ones who could afford to bid on anything were people who had purchased a new car from a local dealer, or a house from a local Realtor, both probably financed by a loan from a local bank, and received thousands of equivalent dollars of Frontier Money. The common people who shopped at the A & P or at J.C. Penney’s saw their chances dashed, and ended up throwing their Frontier Money on the street. It turned out that the color TV set went for $20,000, as did the bicycle built for two. Outrageous!

The majority of persons at that auction went away grumbling, and with it went Frontier Days on a sour note. In reality, the Frontier Days theme just didn’t fit our community. Sane heads fortunately got together and decided to center a festival theme around Albion’s ethnic diversity. In 1966 the first Festival of the Forks was held, and the rest is history. If you miss Frontier Days, you can always visit Charlotte.

This week we illustrate a Frontier Days $10 note, which is the only one I saved from the time [NOTE: I am looking for other denominations for my Albion history collection].


Frontier Days $10 note

Next: FIRST VILLAGE PLAT MAP SHOWED THE FORKS


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All text copyright, 2014 © all rights reserved Frank Passic

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