Rockdale had one heckuvva 100th birthday party
Bill Cooke

Neighbor Grover sez world travelers engage in a contest to see who can collect the most souvenirs made in Taiwan. I t’s been a few months past 39 years since Rockdale staged its biggest celebration ever—a nine-day Centennial observance in June of 1974 that drew participation from just about every one of the town’s 4,650 inhabitants.

The final day, a Saturday, featured shootouts, the burial of a time capsule on the city library lawn, and even “kidnapping” of out-of-state motorists.

I recently came across The Reporter’s extensive coverage of the celebration and I quote from the June 13, 1974 front page:

“The kidnappings were staged by the city’s wild and wooly bandits, bearded and bedecked with Colt .45’s, who pulled over motorists with out- of- state license plates, treated ‘em to White Lightning at the Bent Horseshoe Saloon, and dunked one or two in the ‘hoss trough in front of the saloon.

“The travelers thought it great fun and many stayed for the day’s festivities.”

That Centennial involved virtually ever organization in town in some capacity. I vividly remember a “ Topless Tavern” operated by the Jaycees and so named because it was in an empty, burned out, roofless building. I escorted a visiting Dallas Morning News reporter, who covered that Centennial’s final day, to the venue to quench his thirst.

One photo I’ll never forget taking was of one of Rockdale’s bearded, gun-toting “owlhoots”— who later served many years on the city council—slow- dancing with a broom while Ronnie Caywood, later to become Rockdale “Singing Mailman,” picked and sang “Mr. Bojangles.”

The time capsule, still buried at the library, was filled with mementos and items from citizens, including notes to their offspring to be read 50 years later when the capsule is opened. Wife Pegaroo wrote a paper describing the personalities of our four young children, for them to enjoy a half-century later. The capsule was a huge metal vault made at Alcoa, specially sealed and buried beneath concrete for protection against vandalism.

A historical pageant, “Rockdale 100,” involved a cast of hundreds of costumed citizens and played four nights at Tiger Field. It was directed by a professional, Pat Haggerty of El Paso who later was a several-term state representative from that city.

That Saturday brought a fiddling contest, a final rodeo performance, and a beard contest and you’ll enjoy reading who the winners were:

Best all-around beard—1. Pud Owens; 2. Tommy Jenkins; 3. Johnny Nesbitt.

Muttonchop sideburns—1. Jack Hubert; 2. Bill Cooke (whiskers were black back then); 3. Doug Laws.

Most colorful—1. Kenneth Holley; 2. Mark Towery; 3. James Morton.

Abe Lincoln style—1. Forrest Lee Pounders; 2. Jerry Kirk; 3. Ralph Roe.

Mustache—1. Les Davenport; 2. Skip Whitmire; 3. Tom Eanes.

Goatee—1. W. H. Cooke; 2. Darral Walker; 3. Danny Perry.

Most effort, least results—1. Tom McCandles; 2. Travis Hord.

Robert E. Lee style—Lee Wharton.

There were a gadjillion more events over those nine days. And nobody was more relieved when the final event came to a close than one John Ballard who was the Centennial’s general chairman. John certainly deserved the engraved plaque presented by Mayor Darral Walker at the pageant’s final performance. It was a big undertaking and successful beyond all expectations.

And tucked away in bureau drawers in houses all over our town are Rockdale Centennial souvenir coins that were sold to help finance the event.

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