Colorama will be missed this year, but the memories!

 

Last updated 5/6/2020 at 9:11am

A Grand Coulee police car leads the Colorama parade on Midway Avenue in 2017. - Scott Hunter photo

With this year's Colorama festival cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we decided to take a look back at the history of the event that has been an integral part of the coulee community in one shape or another for over six decades. 

The festival evolved over the years. 

According to books on the subject compiled by the Coulee Pioneer Museum, which reference old newspaper articles, the Grand Coulee Rodeo, which was first held in 1935 or 1936, evolved into the Western Festival in 1954, a joint effort between the Ridge Riders Saddle Club and the Grand Coulee Chamber of Commerce, which 40,000 people attended. 

Around this same time, an idea was developing to install 742 colored flood lights to illuminate the face of the Grand Coulee Dam. 

In May 1958, the city of Grand Coulee hosted the first annual Colorama Festival of Lights, where 25,000 people gathered at the bottom of the dam to watch the display. 

The books say that "Secretary of Interior Fred Seaton crowned Peggy Brown as Queen of Lights, who, in turn, officially turned on the display, illuminating the face of the dam with lights that changed color patterns to represent winter, spring, summer, and fall," on the "big wall of water cascading down the face of the dam." 


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The books describe a carnival and circus, the Colorama Rodeo, and a big barbecue. 

The parade was reported by The Star at that time as featuring 100 "units," including "numerous floats, bands, marching groups, riding units, etc."

"The Queen of Lights will ride on the big Colorama float, and her princess attendants will also play a featured role in the parade. ... Also featured in the parade will be Indians in full ceremonial costume." 

The festival continued through the years with greater and lesser degrees of success, and various features coming and going, such as go-kart races near the rodeo grounds in 1970. 

Arts, crafts, and foods have been a mainstay at the event, in addition to the parade, rodeo, carnival rides, fun, and games that are hard to imagine the festival without. 

The Star asked readers of our Facebook page @GrandCouleeStar to share some of their favorite Colorama memories. 

"My first Colorama, I rode my horse in the parade," Dee A. McFarlin wrote. "Because we didn't have a horse trailer, I had to ride him from Lone Pine all the way to Grand Coulee to be able to participate. Then I got to ride him all the way back!" 

"My favorite memories are going with my grandpa to hang over the fence and watch people practice," Mary Beth Short said. 

"When my mom was Mother of the Year and road in a convertible in the parade," said Maryel Cobb Maguire, who also participated six years in a marching band.

"My boyfriend and I had our first kiss after spending the day at Colorama" nine years ago, wrote Kaitlyn Guest. "I still remember it like it was yesterday." 

Lyn Edwards Mauss remembers "the fire truck spraying the crowds!"

"I love the feeling of community at Colorama," wrote Lisa Oliver Allen. "Walking around seeing faces you've missed for a while. My favorite part is just the overall buzz of the town."

"When I was little my dad would take me to the rodeo and buy me skittles," Sara Lawrence wrote. "Now as an adult, skittles bring back those memories of my dad and I at the rodeo." 

"Scott J. Feeley wrote that "the old flea markets by the churches is where it was at! That teriyaki on a stick was.....mmmmmm. And those ninja throwing stars and stink bombs! Can't forget throwing darts for rock band mirrors or ping pong balls for goldfish. Good times for sure!"

 

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