Each of the small communities along the Wasatch Front had an annual homecoming or celebration. Pleasant Grove had Strawberry days(started in 1921), Spanish Fork had Fiesta Days (started in1942) and Nephi had the Ute Stampede (started in1935) to name a few that were close by. Rodeos were the highlight of the three listed above while the feature of the Onion Days was horse racing. This was my father's favorite sport. These celebrations lasted for three or four days. There were things for everyone from the youngest to the oldest. Madoline Dixon in her book “Peteetneet Town, A History of Payson, Utah” Reports on the origin of the Golden Onion Days;
Annual Celebration Planned
Dr. L. D. Stewart, physician and surgeon, became mayor of Payson in January of 1928 and it was under his guidance that the first Homecoming Celebration was held.
The plans were discussed at a meeting held in conjunction with a banquet at Arrowhead Mission (Resort) in Benjamin. Attending were city officials, heads of civic and church organizations, and representatives of the Paysonian Club of Salt Lake City. These latter were Dr. L. N. Ellsworth and Dr. L. C. Potter.
Dr. Stewart at that time was interested in breeding and racing thoroughbred horses. He suggested that Payson feature horse races to attract people to the celebration. The plan was accepted and the group decided to make improvements to the existing sports field south of Payson High School. A grandstand and stables would be constructed.”
First Golden Onion Days
State officials suggested that to help the general economy each community should promote one of its best crops through a summer celebration. The idea of an annual celebration had already been discussed by Payson civic leaders. They searched their minds for a crop that would be representative of the city. A new crop, onions, was then being grown in Payson fields, with results that were surprising even to the farmers. After much discussion the onion was selected as a motif. Golden Onion Days and Homecoming was the name by which the Payson celebration was to be known. The city built a track and grandstand for horse racing, which would be the featured event of the celebration.”
This is very significant because it was in this time period that my father was training and jockeying horses for Dr. Stewart. I had always assumed that he was about 14 or15 years old. Since he was born in 1915 he would have been 13 for the first Golden Onion Days celebration. I have no idea if he rode in the first celebration or ever rode in one, but it is possible that he rode in the first one. That would explain his love for the races. He had competed in them early on.
I remember the city park being transformed into a carnival-like atmosphere. Facing Main Street were a series of stands selling good homemade food items. Of course we always went to the fourth ward booth and supported our local fund raising activity. Each had a specialty and it was acceptable on occasion to try food from the other wards and organizations. The food booths were all uniform and square, serving on all four sides. This meant that there was a counter around the booth. A canvas top was overhead to keep the sun or rain out and drop down curtains to close up for the night. Further to the East was the carnival with bottle and ring toss and all sorts of games. Usually you could win baby ducks or chicks which Dad and Mom forbade us to win. There was always the Merry-go-round, the ferris wheel, the tilt-A- whirl, and of course the dreaded hammer (loop-o-plane). As I got older I was able to ride the hammer if I could get an adult to go with me, but alas Mom and Dad were too afraid to ride this beast. Reed Carter, my dad's hunting buddy, was my hero because he would take me on the hammer, but even Reed had his limit to riding on the hammer. He would only ride once.
One of the highlights of the homecoming was the parades. These parades were fun with various floats made by the local organizations. Of course there was the homecoming Queen and her attendants as well as Miss Payson and her court. Along with the floats were bands and horses. Bands and horses in the same parade presented problems for a band member. We were to march in line and not deviate but we had to dodge the droppings from the horses. Later I learned that these were called road apples.
One year I got to ride a float for some hunting and fishing organization. Our float was a boat on its trailer. I was in the front of the boat with cattails or bullrushes all around and I was dressed as a duck hunter. I had Dad's shotgun, decoys, vest, and hat. I had a duck call to make noise as we went along the parade route. The people representing the fishing portion had this great huge carp that they drug along behind the boat. The whole fish didn't make the whole trip.
Sunday evening they always had the last band concert of the year in the park. This was always a bittersweet event. We had sacrament meetings in the evening and the band concert followed after sacrament. I remember hoping that meeting would end so we could get to the park. We always had fun at band concerts. There was this great bandstand in the center of the memorial park with its white columns rising to the flat roof. When I was in Jr High School I was able to play in several Sunday night concerts. The band had some really good people from the community and they got paid by rank in the band. I was surprised to get paid so I guess for that one summer I was a professional musician. It was much more fun to chase girls and talk with friends than be in the band so I gave it up. I couldn't be bought for 75 cents/day.
We had three days of horse racing and we always made it one of the days. The race track was just south of the high school at the end of Main Street. The grandstand and fences were always painted white and the banners were flying. There was the starting gate that was pulled by a tractor and aligned for each race. Dad’s cousin Dale Wilson used to always announce the races. He knew all of the jockeys and most of the horses. Dale had a beautiful voice and I was always proud to know him. He always called me Kenny. Pari mutual betting was not legal in the state of Utah so we would pick our horses from the program to have one to cheer on. At other times we would bet dimes. We would choose our horse by drawing lots from dad’s hat. If you drew the winner you won the pot. If you were serious about betting you could make money by betting on the jockeys. The trick was the best jockeys got their pick of horses.
The Payson City Park was declared a Memorial Park at the end of World War I. It is possibly the second park in the nation devoted to the memory of service men. In keeping with the tradition at the end of World War II a large memorial sign was placed on the lot next to the Park. This sign honored those that served in the military with special emphasis on those that would not be with us at our “Golden Onion Day Homecoming”. I was happy because my uncles Rogue, Cornell and Shorty were coming home.
Evidently at one time there was a thriving business of growing onions in the Payson area. I was looking in a seed catalog many years later and ran into a variety called Payson's Golden Onion. Few people raised onions when I was living there. The only one that I knew was Bruce Walton who had several beautiful daughters of which I dated one. Onions are a neat crop because they take two years to grow. You plant seeds to get the small onions or scallions and you plant the small onions to get the large onions and seeds if you allow them to flower.
Labor Day was always a special holiday because of homecoming, and just recently Linda and I were married on Labor day which makes it more special each year.