“The Rhododendron Festival was started in June 1928 by the Chamber of Commerce to bring more tourism to Asheville and lasted until 1942 when the U.S. went to war. At its height it was a weeklong event featuring a parade every day, beauty pageants and upscale balls….
“It was also designed to showcase the rich traditions of southern Appalachia…. Bascom Lamar Lunsford of Mars Hill was the principal organizer of the Appalachian music events and successfully spun off the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival….
“The festival crowned a King and Queen of Rhododendron, a mythical fairyland built in the baseball diamond at McCormick Field…. Dogs and livestock were also paraded around and judged….”
— From “The Rhododendron Festival” by Cliff Mori at brew-ed.com
Asheville historian Nan Chase notes that the festival “started during a period people were so destitute that men were hunting squirrels in town for food and picking up coal along the railroad tracks to sell. I call it a ‘pageant of hope.’ “
Chase also happened onto an early mention of Billie Burke – later Glinda the Good Witch in “The Wizard of Oz” — tap-dancing at a festival pageant atop the Grove Arcade.