New Yorkers in 2014 enjoyed the summer solstice by going to the Mermaid Parade, testing out the new roller coaster at Coney Island, and cruising on Citibikes.
In the 1910s, they did it by reviving an ancient holiday most commonly celebrated in northern Europe: Midsummer’s Day.
The idea of bringing back this once-popular summer event—a festival of food, dancing, and maypoles—began with a group of students from all-female Washington Irving High School on 15th Street and Irving Place.
According to a New York Times article, six girls sent and signed this very fanciful, slightly hippie-ish letter to Mayor Gaynor:
“Whereas the great family known as the City of New York should, like other happy families, take part in the joys of its daughters, you, the honored father of the city, are advised that your girls are minded to meet you in the family garden, Pelham Bay Park, June 24, 1910, and to pay you filial respect, to entertain you with songs and games, and otherwise celebrate our family loyalty.”
After eating, a Midsummer procession was to occur. “Competitive songs and dances will follow, with the ancient midsummer torch race and other traditional games,” the Times wrote.
I couldn’t find an account of how the Midsummer Day festival went off. And unfortunately, when it came time to do it again in 1911, the Mayor didn’t show, according to a 1911 Times article.
But thousands of Washington Irving girls did. These photos, from the Bain Collection of the Library of Congress, are from the June 24, 1911 festival.