A historic look at Tahoe’s celebration
THE WAY IT WAS –
Summer in Tahoe, around the 1870s, meant lots of hard work.
It was a brief interlude between harsh winters, just a few balmy months in which to cut as much lumber as possible and transport it from the basin before the roads closed.
So, said historian Lyn Landauer, everyone hustled like mad and worked their fingers to the bone to beat the first snowfall and South Shore’s inevitable transformation into a winter ghost town.
Rewards for this hard labor were few and far between and a holiday the likes of Independence Day was a precious, much-anticipated event. It was an opportunity to dance and play, a chance to fully enjoy a day of leisure.
“It was a huge celebration, a great big party. It was very lavish, with champagne or wine, and sometimes even ice cream,” Landauer said. “There were speeches by politicians, and bands brought up from Genoa. Some people said you could hear the music across the lake.”
Mostly, she said, July 4 festivities involved picnics and parties at some of the larger hotels, or on cruise boats anchored at Rubicon or Emerald bays.
“In the last quarter of the 19th century, it was still a working area with a lot of lumber companies, farmers, a few hotel people and some store owners. So much had to be done before the snow flew – this was their one time off,” Landauer said. “At that time, it was really only beginning to be a resort place. People were slowly starting to take excursions to Tahoe, taking the train and staying at hotels. None of these people were poor but they were all invited to the parties, along with the workers.”
At the Tallac Resort, in the early 1900s, guests had a pastime all of their own.
“The big thing on Fourth of July was spoon egg races,” said Linda Cole, Tallac Historic Site director. “They put an egg on a spoon, held the spoon between their teeth, and ran.”
In the 1920s, the small vacation community at Fallen Leaf Lake celebrated July 4 with boat races and competitions. A rowboat tug of war and canoe jousting were particularly popular, said Bill Craven, who has been vacationing at Fallen Leaf for the last 60 years.
“Canoe jousting involved a two-man team. One stood up in the boat, holding a 10-foot pole with a pillow tied at each end. The object was to push the opponent out of the canoe,” Craven said. “Of course, we had the usual watermelon feast, but fireworks were never popular because of the fire hazard.”
Craven said fireworks did not become popular at Lake Tahoe until after World War II when the population mushroomed and stores gave in to popular demand.
BREAKOUT: What, where, when for this year
– Lights on the Lake ’99, sponsored by the Lake Tahoe Gaming Alliance, begins Sunday at approximately 9:45 p.m.
– Each display is choreographed and synchronized to a soundtrack broadcast on radio stations KRLT (FM 93.9) and KOWL (AM 1490).
– The show can be viewed on most beaches from Nevada Beach, off U.S. Highway 50 at Round Hill, to Camp Richardson, off State Route 89 toward Emerald Bay.
– If viewing the pyrotechnics from a boat, law enforcement agencies require full lighting and safety equipment.
– The pyrotechnics are scheduled to last about half an hour.
– For more information, call the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority at (530) 544-5050.
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