AUGUST 17, 1940
HYDE PARK, Friday—I promised to tell you more about the Onion Festival. There is a section of Orange County, N.Y. with some 10,000 to 12,000 acres of cleared land whose soil is as rich and black as can be found anywhere in this country. It is the second largest onion growing section in the United States, and in good years it nets an annual income of about one million dollars.
But, there is a gamble in it; for while some drainage work has been done, it hasn't been sufficient to insure against flooding. A few times in the past several years, the people who depend for the most part on this one crop have had no crop. There are many other hazards in onion growing; but in spite of them, the Polish and German people who settled in this area have succeeded in making good homes for themselves and have raised large families. All in the family work—and work hard—but they seem to be a healthy, happy group of people. Religion is a very real part of their lives, so this Onion Festival is arranged largely by the priests in the different parishes.
First, we lunched with Mrs. Florence Ketchum in Warwick, and then formed a long procession of floats and trucks with bands to parade through several villages and some 12 miles of the countryside. At the end of the motor trip, we returned to the field where the pageant is held. This is colorful, featuring costumes from different parts of Poland, various Polish dances and some beautiful singing. The pageant ends with the crowning of the Queen, who is escorted by four young ladies who are chosen as Princesses because they have also found a place in the competition.
The girl chosen as Queen was a pretty, fair-haired girl with great poise and a charming personality. Among her other qualifications, the Queen must actually have worked in the onion fields. This one played her part charmingly and State Senator Desmond crowned her with appropriate ceremony.
I did not get home until half past seven, and found the audience for the plays given by the Valley Vagabonds already gathering on our lawn. The Poughkeepsie Refugee Children's Committee, headed by Dr. Henry MacCracken, and for which Mrs. Lyndon H. Thatcher arranged this benefit, did a really very good piece of work in selling tickets. We had a good audience, which seemed to enjoy the young players. Some of the audience later joined with the actors in dancing a Virginia reel. This was their last performance of the season, but they hope to start again next summer. I admire their enthusiasm and wish them increasing success, which their good work deserves.
This morning Mrs. Henry Morgenthau, Jr. is joining me and we are going over to Woodstock, N.Y. to visit the NYA project there.