Bayfield Apple Festival – The Beginning
Bayfield Apple Festival – The Beginning
By Robert J. Nelson
September 14, 2015
Life-long Bayfield orchardist and berry farmer for 60 years, Walter James (Jimmy) Erickson offered up a newspaper article from the Duluth Herald and Duluth News Tribune dated, October 3, 1981that presented a rare look into the genesis of the world renowned and longest running festival to date in the Badger state. The article presented by Richard Hoops was named “Fortuitous Flat” with a subtitle “An ordinary accident bore fruit as an extraordinary event in Bayfield”. Here is that wonderful story.
“Flat tires generally don’t lead to anything special, but the one Jimmy Erickson had 19 years ago on the old Interstate Bridge between Duluth and Superior was an exception.
Erickson, a Bayfield commercial fisherman and orchard grower, was on his way to North Dakota with a truckload of apples on a late summer evening in 1962 when he had a flat on the old bridge. He nursed the vehicle to a West Duluth truck stop and waited for a spare to be driven up from home. Stuck there a few hours, Erickson started selling apples off the truck, and quickly found that a lot of his customers weren’t up on their South Shore geography.
“I was selling apples off the truck that night, waiting for my spare to come up, and everybody I sold apples to did not know where Bayfield was,” Erickson said. “They didn’t think we raised Apples in Bayfield. A few of them questioned me about it; they even thought I hauled them from Michigan”. “And that’s when I thought to myself, ‘here I am hauling way out to North Dakota and people 85 miles away don’t even know we raise apples. We were missing the boat”.
The spare tire finally came and, after selling 25 bushels of apples, Erickson finished his trip. But when he returned to Bayfield, he thought something had to be done to publicize the town’s orchards.
Erickson was on the Board of Directors of the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce. At a board meeting in the back of clothing store, [Julian and Marie Nelson’s General Clothing] he suggested that the town sponsor some sort of Apple Festival. A short time later, in September 1962, Bayfield’s first Apple Festival  drew almost 4000 people. “It turned out very successful,” Erickson said. It is grown bigger ever since. Last year,  it was so successful that Highway 13 coming into Bayfield had to be closed off because of the crowds, said Virginia Beauchamp of the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce. In all, about 24,000 people attended last year, she said, and 25,000 are expected this year.
 Apple growers at the time included John Ahnen Sr., Russell Aiken, Ronald Barningham, Walter Barningham, Ed Betzold, Othmar Bolliger, James Erickson, John (Jackie) Erickson, John Dawson Hauser, John and James Hauser, Albert (Bun) Milligan, Rudolph Langhammer, Hilding Leafblad, Alan Rabideaux, William Shuga, Nick and John Torbick, Bud Weber and Ed Weidenger to name a few. Minutes of the Bayfield Peninsula Fruit Growers Association- 1962 The minutes the transcriber viewed were documented from August 9, 1955, to September 1964.
 Chamber of Commerce President Julian Nelson and directors Jim Erickson, George Mitchell, Dawson Hauser, Mel Sandstrom, Dan Brummer, and Chick Norwell, decided to hold it the first weekend in October, advertise the event, and call it “Apple Festival,”: Ellen Riely-Hauser; A BRIEF HISTORY – HAUSER’S SUPERIOR VIEW FARM, September 12, 2015, document for BHA Timber Lands and Agriculture Exhibit
 James Erickson commented that Mary Ahnen, the first apple queen, daughter of fellow apple grower John Ahnen, was hand-picked by himself, backed by Julian Nelson. An offer was made to Mary to be the queen…Mary accepted with pride. Thereafter the queen gained her honorable position by selling the most raffle tickets for grand prizes like Ford Mustangs and other expensive Chamber of Commerce offerings. Jim also commented that similar apple festivals were tried in 1948 and 1957 but both failed. 9/14/2015 interview
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Two Apple Fest “shakers and movers” in the Applefest Parade-2014, Julian B. Nelson with Jim Erickson driving.
Photo: Heidi M. Nelson
This history brief was written by Robert J. Nelson. Generously sharing our local history through his research and writing.