Marshall and the Apple Blossom Festival

In Winchester, Virginia this week, the 90th annual Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival is in full swing. The festival that celebrates the arrival of spring and the pink-and-white apple blossoms started in 1924 as a one-day event and, except for the war years 1942-1945, has been held every year since then. It is one of the oldest civic celebrations in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

According to a VMI Cadet article in February 1951, the Apple Blossom Festival was considered one of the most popular annual events in the state with its street parade, various band performances, lavishly decorated floats and the coronation of the Apple Blossom Queen.

In April 1951, Secretary of Defense Marshall received a letter from Senator Harry Byrd, inviting him to be an honored guest on May 3rd for, what the Distinguished Guest Committee called, General Marshall Day. Marshall promptly accepted the invitation to attend and said it gave him “a respite from the arduous duties at the Pentagon.

Marshall’s participation in the event placed him in a long list of dignitaries, officials and celebrities to serve at the event. Others include: Secretary of War George Dern, Lewis Douglas, Ambassador to England, Vice President Alben Barkley, General James Van Fleet, boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, singers Bing Crosby and Hank Williams, Jr., actresses Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor, athletes Joe Thiesmann and Jesse Owens and entertainers like Bob Hope and Ed Sullivan.

Marshall arrived in Winchester at noon and was escorted by Mrs. H. B. McCormack, Sr. after lunch to the high school across the street. At 2:30pm Marshall crowned Guri Lie, daughter of U.N. Secretary General Trygve Lie, as queen of the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival.

Tom Baldridge, a publicity executive at MGM who had been appointed as the Director General of the festival in 1930 to increase interest and attendance, wrote to thank General Marshall for his participation in the event. In return, Marshall sent photos of the event taken by the Defense Department to Senator Byrd, Mr. Lie and Mr. Baldridge.