Mining for history – St. Piran’s Day honors Cornish culture, heritage
History enthusiasts and others flocked to downtown Grass Valley this weekend to participate in the city’s first annual St. Piran’s Day festival, a celebration held to rekindle connections with the region’s Cornish heritage.
Councilman Mark Johnson deemed the celebration a success, calling it an “important day” to strengthen bonds with Bodmin, Grass Valley’s sister city in Cornwall.
The celebration kicked off with a sing-along Friday evening at the Holbrooke Hotel, followed by a flag-raising Saturday morning.
Then there was the much-touted pasty toss, where the object was landing a liver-and-dog-food-filled pie atop a well-used Cornish flag that was in the parking lot of City Hall.
Twenty pies were tossed and scarfed up afterwards by several happy dogs.
Judy Rickard Sanders of Santa Rosa returned to the hometown of her grandparents to win the women’s division of the toss, a triumph attained without hours of training, she said.
“I throw things well,” Sanders said shrugging. “I’m a retired teacher.”
Following the pasty toss, Robert Russell of Grass Valley won the town crier contest by belting out an announcement – “Long live the governor” – and ringing a bell.
Later, the activities moved to the United Methodist Church of Grass Valley.
Karen and Michael Stull of Grass Valley attended primarily to sample the Methodist Church’s renowned pasties, which were served for lunch. The pasties were whipped up en masse by Thelma Stade and other church volunteers, including Nellie Martin, who has made the pies for more than 40 years, Stade said.
They also came to brush up on area history, which they hope to share with visitors to the Empire Mine State Park, where they are volunteers.
But there was yet another reason the Stulls came to the celebration.
“The more history we can save, the less development we’ll have,” said Karen Stull, adding that she believes a greater understanding of the region’s heritage will spur locals to oppose large developments.
Al and Shirley Williams came from the Bay Area to celebrate their heritage in Grass Valley, which some have called the headquarters of Cornish culture in America, Al Williams said.
Al Williams’ father was born in Grass Valley after the family had traveled from Cornwall through Michigan and Colorado to California. His grandfather was a miner here, Williams said.
Discovering your family’s history is important, said Dick Eyheralde, who came from Napa with his wife, Carol, to attend the festival.
“A lot of other cultures keep their traditions. Why not the Cornish?” Eyheralde said.
The luncheon was capped by Philip Payton, a professor from the United Kingdom who discussed the experiences of A.L. Rowse, a well-known scholar who summed up his description of America by uttering, “best of all is beautiful Grass Valley,” Payton said.
The Grass Valley Methodists make pasties once a month for sale. To learn more, call the church at 272-1946.
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