Home' The River Weekly News : RWN 021216 Contents Historic Downtown Fort Myers, Then And Now:
Baby Nurse On Parade
by Gerri Reaves, PhD
remembers very little of
her solitary promenade
down the center of First Street
during the Edison Festival
She doesn't remember which
year it was -- 1939 or 1940,
when she had just turned only
three or four.
But what she does remember
is feeling very shy and embarrassed as she gazed
down at the street and headed west.
And, she does clearly recall just once looking up
and around -- at the intersection at Hendry Street.
Perhaps the thing that made the biggest impression
on her was the delightful nurse's outfit her mother,
Hollis Dye Smith, sewed for her: a dark blue cape that
revealed a red lining when the breeze flipped it open.
As for having the courage to be a parade act unto
herself at such a young age, Bowen said, "I was told
Bowen, a long-time board member of the
Southwest Florida Historical Society and a past
president, says that no parents accompanied their
children in the parade, so it was a solo.
Her parade appearance took place before the Baby
Parade became a separate event, either the second or
third year of the festival.
Sue Bennet Grimes, who was crowned Queen of
Edisonia in 1955, remembers that children were
always part of the parade, even in the year's before
the separate children's events became official.
She says they rode bicycles or a float designed by a
family business, or they simply walked, as Bowen did.
Grimes has been involved in the festival in one way
or another for much of her life. She marched in the
parade as a girl scout and remembers pulling small
floats on wagons or strollers for younger children.
She herself was on floats starting about 10th grade
on during her high-school years.
She is currently on the board of directors and is the
corresponding secretary for the Edison Pageant of
Light. Also, she has also served as historian.
It wasn't until 1946 that a baby parade and
coronation that paralleled the adult ones were added
to the festival. It was later renamed the Children's
Parade and today is called the Junior Parade.
In the pre-World War II years, 1938 to 1941, the
festival celebrating Thomas A. Edison's life and legacy
was limited to only three days. It was suspended from
1942 until 1945, but resumed with great fanfare after
In 1946, the festival expanded to seven or eight
The year of 1947 was particularly special as the
centennial of the great inventor's birth. Also, that
February, Mina Miller (Thomas A.) Edison made a gift
of the Edison Winter Estate and grounds to the City of
In both 1946 and 1947, Mina took part in the
pageant, crowning the Edisonia royalty. Her
participation in the festival established to honor her
husband was all the more meaningful because she
died in August 1947.
No one could have missed a certain excitement in
the air lately, as Fort Myers experiences its biggest
manifestation of community spirit, an historic festival
that plays a major role in the town's civic and social
life.Today, the numerous events and number of
participants demand that the festival span a month or
more, from late January to late February. Events
range from a Regional Science & Inventors Fair and
Strolling Flower Show to a Mutt Strutt, Mrs. Edison's
Hymn Sing and a 5K Run -- and much more.
In 1989, the non-profit Edison Festival of Light,
Inc. officially assumed responsibility for all public
events celebrating Thomas Edison and the City of
Fort Myers, as stated on the organization's website.
Take a walk downtown and imagine all the parades
that have occurred since First Street was only a dirt
Then visit the nearby Southwest Florida Museum of
History at 2031 Jackson Street to learn more about
the town's beloved festival.
For information, call 321-7430 or go to
swflmuseumofhistory.com. Museum hours are 10 a.m.
to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.
Your history research won't be complete until you
visit the Southwest Florida Historical Society's
The all-volunteer non-profit organization is at
10091 McGregor Boulevard on the campus of the
Lee County Alliance for the Arts.
The center is open Wednesday and Saturday
between 9 a.m. and noon and Wednesday 4 to 7 p.m.
Call 939-4044 or visit swflhistoricalsociety.org for
Sources: The Archives of the Southwest Florida
Historical Society and edisonfestival.org.
THE RIVER - FEBRUARY 12, 2016
Genevieve Bowen appeared in the Edison Festival
Parade in 1939 or 1940 dressed as a nurse. Her mother
made the costume with a dark blue cape and red lining.
courtesy Southwest Florida Historical Society,
The River Weekly News will correct factual errors or matters of emphasis and interpretation that appear in news stories.
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and Ken Rasi
Gerri Reaves, Ph D
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