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Radio personality Ted Husing is "adored" by Eastern Michigan Water Carnival bathing beauties in 1929.

DREAM REALIZED: Tourism Envisioned by 1929 Water Carnival Coming True

Good Ideas, Like Old Soldiers, Never Die, River Events Show

June 26, 2016       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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Good ideas, like old soldiers, never die.

In 1929, seeing the old lumbering economy nearly out of steam and manufacturing stunted by the Great Depression, Bay City's leaders had a great idea: the Eastern Michigan Water Carnival.

The Saginaw River would be the showplace for a magnificent festival that would bring visitors from far and wide and put Bay City on the tourism map of the nation.

Broadcaster Ted Husing, through coast-to-coast broadcasts from the local radio station WBCM, would reach the masses of big city folks hungry for entertainment.

Olympic swimming champion Johnny Weismiller (later the movies' first Tarzan) would come and swim in a pool erected just about where the DoubleTree Hotel-Bay City Riverfront stands today.

The pool was built in six days by the team of Selwyn Ramsay of Bay City Shovels, Bill Jennison of Jennison Hardware, and Otto Sovereign of Aladdin Ready-Cut Homes.

The Michigan State Swimming and Diving Championships would be held, boat races would be staged and tourists would flock here, bring scads of money and sparking the local economy.

Chippewa Indians would be invited to erect teepees in Wenonah Park to add native color. City Manager George Lusk and local promoter Walt Graveline were given headdresses and inducted as honorary members of the tribe.

A massive parade of floats, bands, and dancing girls would whip up interest among local folks and serve as a springboard to the event.

Gov. Wilbur Brucker of Michigan, Mayor Frank Murphy of Detroit and Illinois Governor Fred A. Britten all participated in the motorboat races, being driven around the course from the Wenonah dock to the mouth of the river by noted racers Hilda Mueller, Hub Myers and Dick Neal.

Well, it all happened, just as the boys downtown had planned. And it lasted three years. Until....

Hysteria over scantily clad bathing beauties set in, fueled by a narrow-minded dissenter who called himself "The Avenger."

More than 30 villages and towns in the area had sent their most attractive "queens" to a contest to name a "Miss Eastern Michigan Water Carnival."

The girls came and paraded on the stage of the Regent Theater Aug. 22-24 1929. Lorraine Budge of Beaverton was the first winner, and also became Miss Michigan and competed for Miss America. She later married Tyler McVey, Bay City native who parlayed acting talents first displayed at the Bay City Players into a long Hollywood career as a popular character actor.

"The Avenger," as I recall in a local history book "Bay City Hauntings," attacked the highly successful three-day event: "this water carnival and the bathing girls are contrary to the words of the Good Book," he wrote to Ken Duncan, editor of the Bay City Times and chairman of the water carnival.

"Unless you cancel the carnival, I will strike with Divine Fury," the Avenger threatened.

So, after the third year of a highly successful tourism event, the Eastern Michigan Water Carnival went into the history books, killed by a lone psycho.

But hardly anything has changed in 87 years. The river is still the focus of crowd-pleasing events like River Roar.

Broadcasts of the races on ESPN bring the Bay City name to the masses of the sports world.

Now that dream first pictured 87 years ago by town leaders is finally being realized, over and over. The Water Carnival never died as the Avenger wished, although the era of bathing beauties is now out of fashion, at least here.

Besides River Roar, the Fourth of July Fireworks Festival extravaganza and other related events bring tourists here by the hundreds of thousands in total.

The St. Stans Polish Festival, the Hells half Mile Film Festival, the River of Time Living History exhibits, and other festivals have compounded the tourism potential first launched as the Eastern Michigan Water Carnival.

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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at carraroe@aol.com)

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