This year would have marked the 70th anniversary of Old Car Festival, the longest running antique car show in America. While due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we currently can’t be immersed in the moving stories of the early automotive era, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to celebrate our longest running and one of our most loved events in Greenfield Village.
Old Car Festival is more than just a car show. It’s an experience. It’s the detail that goes into the costumes and settings of the vignettes created by our staff that depict the turn of the century to the Great Depression. It’s the blues, jazz and Ragtime that you can hear throughout the streets and the dancing to go with it. It’s the delicious food offerings from our culinary team. It’s the sight and smell of more than 800 vehicles taking to the streets and taking over nearly every corner of the village. All of it together transports our participants, members, guests and staff back to a time when these vehicles created their own roads.
All of it wouldn’t be possible of course, without our wonderful participants who come year after year to take their cherished treasures out for a spin (or just for show in some cases), participate in games of skill out on Walnut Grove and share their favorite stories with those who pass by.
In addition to the 70th anniversary of Old Car Festival, this year’s event would have also celebrated the centennial of the 19th Amendment. Automobiles arrived just as women were making new inroads in the workplace and in civic engagement. It’s not too much to say that the car’s freedom of mobility made an important contribution to this social change. On September 10, our curator of transportation Matt Anderson participated in a special THF Conversations for our members on “Women behind the Wheel,” taking a look at how early American carmakers marketed to women and the role the car played on the road to suffrage. (The link to this video will be available here soon, or read about the same topic here.)
We look forward to making more Old Car Festival memories soon. Until then, stay safe and have a great weekend--and if you want, explore round-ups from previous Old Car Festivals on our blog here.
Melissa Foster is Senior Manager of Public Relations at The Henry Ford.
This 1930 Hupmobile Model S was one of nearly 800 vehicles that filled Greenfield Village for this year’s Old Car Festival.
Another summer car show season is in the books as we wrap up our 69th annual Old Car Festival in Greenfield Village. We enjoyed practically perfect weather, enthusiastic crowds, and a field of nearly 800 vintage automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, and bicycles. You couldn’t have asked for a better weekend – or a better way to spend it.
This 1925 Ford Model TT truck fit perfectly with the Depression-era Mattox Family Home. Greenfield Village provides an incomparable setting for Old Car Festival.
Our spotlight for 2019 shined on early sports cars, whether genuine performers like the Stutz Bearcat, or mere sporty-looking cars like Ford’s Model T Torpedo Runabout. We usually associate sports cars with postwar imported MGs or all-American Corvettes, but enthusiast motoring is an old idea. For as long as there have been cars, there have been builders and buyers dedicated to the simple idea that driving should be fun.
The Henry Ford’s 1923 Stutz Bearcat. Many consider the Bearcat to be America’s first true sports car.
In keeping with the theme, we featured three sporty cars in our special exhibit tent across from Town Hall. From The Henry Ford’s own collection, we pulled our 1923 Stutz Bearcat. If there’s one name synonymous with early sporting automobiles, it’s “Bearcat.” Indianapolis-based Stutz introduced the model in 1912. The first-generation Bearcat featured only the barest bodywork and a trademark “monocle” windshield. Our later model was a bit more refined but, with 109 horses under the hood, it had no problems pushing the speedometer needle to the century mark. And, with its $3500 price tag, it had no problems pushing your bankbook into the red, either.
The sporty, affordable 1926 Chevrolet – for when the heart says, “speed up” but the wallet says, “slow down.”
Our good friends at General Motors once again shared a treasure from the company’s collection. This time it was a beautiful 1926 Chevrolet Superior Series V. The car boasted custom bodywork from the Mercury Body Company of Louisville, Kentucky. The speedster body and disc wheels gave a sporty look to a car targeted at budget-minded buyers. The Chevy sold for $510 – about one-seventh the cost of that Stutz!
This newly-restored 1927 Packard ambulance served the city of Detroit for nearly 30 years.
Every car at Old Car Festival has its own story, but some of them are particularly special. You could certainly say that about the 1927 Packard ambulance bought to us by owner Brantley Vitek of Virginia. He purchased the vehicle, in rather rough condition, at the Hershey swap meet in 1974. Dr. Vitek planned to restore it but, as is sometimes the case for car collectors, life got in the way. He wasn’t able to start the project until 2016, but it was well worth the wait. The finished ambulance is gorgeous – and not without southeast Michigan ties. The Packard served all its working life with the Detroit Fire Department. Old Car Festival wasn’t just a debut for the completed project, it was a homecoming as well.
The corn boil was just one of the dietary delights offered at this year’s show.
Veteran Old Car Festival attendees know that the show mixes a little gastronomy with its gasoline. Each year brings historically-inspired foods to the special “Market District” set up along the south end of Greenfield Village’s Washington Boulevard. Offerings for 2019 included turkey legs, sliced pastrami sandwiches, baked beans and cornbread (served in a tin cup), and peach cobbler. Longstanding favorites like kettle corn, hobo bread, and frozen custard were on hand too.
Prize winners received glass medallions handcrafted in the Greenfield Village Glass Shop.
As it does every year, Old Car Festival wrapped up with the Sunday afternoon awards ceremony. Show participants are invited to submit their vehicles for judging. Expert judges award prizes based on authenticity, quality of restoration, and the care with which each vehicle is maintained. First, second, and third-place prizes are awarded in eight classes, and one Grand Champion is selected for each of the show’s two days. Additionally, two Curator’s Choice awards are given to significant unrestored vehicles.
The Canadian Model T Assembly Team entertained by putting together this vintage Ford in mere minutes.
Year after year, Old Car Festival provides sights, sounds, and tastes to delight the senses. It’s no wonder the show has been going strong for 69 years. We’ll see you for show number 70 in 2020!
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
Factory-built trucks, like this 1931 Ford Model A pickup, were the highlight at this year’s Old Car Festival in Greenfield Village.
Another summer car show season has come and gone, but it was capped off in spectacular fashion with the 68th annual Old Car Festival. More than 750 bicycles, automobiles and trucks filled Greenfield Village with the sights and sounds of motoring circa 1900-1932.
This year’s theme commemorated a century of factory-built trucks. Chevrolet introduced its first half-ton and one-ton trucks in 1918. Ford technically built its first Model TT trucks in 1917, but TT production that first year was so small that it seems fair to celebrate the Ford truck centennial in 2018, too. Regular Old Car Festival attendees know that – despite the show’s name – trucks have long been a part of the event, but this year the spotlight was theirs. In addition to the many participant trucks, our friends at the GM Heritage Center kindly provided a 1926 Chevrolet Superior Series X pickup for display, while we pulled out a 1925 Ford Model TT stake truck from The Henry Ford’s collection.
A group of eight Sears high wheelers heads through Pass-in-Review – with the non-runner towed by a 1921 Fordson Model F tractor.
Old Car Festival always brings together a mix of the rare and the common, the strange and the standard, and this year was no exception. Among the highlights was a group of eight Sears high wheelers. From 1909 to 1912, aspiring motorists could order complete cars (along with just about everything else) from the Sears catalog. Priced around $400, the cars were solid if not spectacular, but their arrival was something of a cultural milestone. If *Sears* was selling them, then surely these horseless carriages were here to stay!
Even 130 years after “safety” bicycles supplanted them, high-wheel “ordinary” bikes continue to fascinate.
Not every vehicle at Old Car Festival had a motor. Once again members of the Michigan Wheelmen brought a variety of period bicycles, from a replica of a circa 1817 draisine (the bicycle’s earliest, peddle-less ancestor), to intimidating high wheelers of the 1870s, to more conventional “safety” bikes of the sort Wilbur and Orville Wright sold in the 1890s. Throughout the weekend, the Wheelmen wowed the crowds with their displays of skill – from bicycle games, to stunts, to simply managing to climb aboard something with a front wheel 58 inches high.
Visitors enjoyed an additional musical treat this year as organist Dave Wagner performed hit songs of the early automobile era on the newly-restored pipe organ in the Menlo Park Laboratory.
Our decade vignettes, so popular last year, returned for 2018. For the Aughts, we had a group of Civil War veterans enjoying a G.A.R. reunion picnic (with a period-appropriate blend of horse-drawn and motorized transportation). For the 1910s, we had a Ragtime street fair complete with fast-fingered pianists, vintage games, and tasty foods along Washington Boulevard. At the other end of the village near Cotswold Cottage – “over there,” if you will – a group of World War I reenactors commemorated the centennial of the Armistice. The Roaring ’20s were recalled with a concert and dancing at the bandstand near the Ackley Covered Bridge. And the somber early years of the Great Depression came to life through the blues guitar of the Rev. Robert Jones.
Another rare sight: five Model K Fords attended the show. Today the big six-cylinder K is unfairly dismissed as a failure. In truth, it sold well – and quite profitably – between 1906 and 1908.
Whether it was your first visit or your 21st, Old Car Festival surely offered something to bring a smile to your face or a tap to your toe. It’s a car show like no other, and one we’ve been proud to present year after year.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
Back in the late 1990s when The Henry Ford offered the Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the Story of Ichabod Crane program in Greenfield Village, there was a need to flesh out some areas with unique, yet iconic “set dressing” that would augment the rural and spooky flavor of the story we were trying to tell. Scarecrows were ubiquitous fixtures of kitchen gardens and some field crops over the years to deter birds and other such creatures from unintentional feasting. “Scarecrows” are still used today although a variety of designs, materials and articulations are very few of which take on a human form or shape - a far cry from the days of old.
It didn't take long until our team was challenged with the premise that we needed something large enough to make a visual impact and yet manageable and nimble enough to be used as temporary structure. Inspiration began to pour in from various imagery, films and shows, and descriptive language from literature, along with my own imagination, I created a 16-foot tall scarecrow affectionately named Mr. Irving after author George Washington Irving. Since those autumn nights more than 15 years ago and still today, Mr. Irving has been a part of the Greenfield Village’s fall and Hallowe’en programming. He has been photographed by thousands of guests and his inspiration lives on with many Mr. Irving lookalikes popping up in yards all over southeastern Michigan.
New to Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village this year is the Top Hat Side Show. Led by Andrew D'Ascenzo, a professional circus and fire performer, the vaudeville-style show features unique acts in several fields including circus, fire, sideshow, magic, and comedy. Vaudeville performances aren’t new to The Henry Ford; every summer in Greenfield Village our dramatic programs in Town Hall combine music, comedy, and dance revues that pay homage to the great music and zany humor found in vaudeville.
Another car show season drew to a close with our Old Car Festival on September 12-13. It’s always disheartening for car fans – and warm weather fans – to see summer go, but the festival makes for a great climax. This year we had more than 900 cars, bicycles and commercial vehicles registered for the event. Every one of them dated from the 1890s to 1932, a time of innovation, evolution and variety. Visitors to Greenfield Village saw everything from the ubiquitous Ford Model T to the downright obscure Havers (only a handful of these cars, built in Port Huron, Michigan, from 1911-1914, are thought to survive).
During the launch of Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame former Detroit Lion Barry Sanders toured the exhibit and received a special tour of the exhibit's highlights. Take a look at Barry's visit and hear what he has to say about this exhibit, on display at Henry Ford Museum through January 4, 2015.
Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.
That’s how Jim Johnson described Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hallow.” The 1820s short story is the inspiration for the grand finale of sorts at Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village – where visitors cross the bridge and encounter the infamous Headless Horseman.
Irving’s story, Gothic literature, legends and other spooky tales are fundamental elements for much of the fun at Greenfield Village’s annual Halloween event.
“After the renovations to Greenfield Village, we decided to lift our Halloween event to a new level,” said Jim Johnson, who is senior manager of creative programs at The Henry Ford. “With the village as our backdrop, we wanted to find our own niche that had something for everyone and was family friendly.”
Just being in the village at night is a unique experience, and it provides the perfect setting for a Halloween event inspired by the past.
Jim said they looked at how the holiday evolved. “We found interesting things about how the celebration of Halloween changed over time,
“Customs started to take shape toward the at the end of the 19th century and almost click through a process that takes us to where we are today - where we decorate our homes and go house-to-house for trick or treating.”
Coming into the 20th century, Halloween wasn’t necessarily a kids’ holiday – other than they commonly pulled pranks like knocking over outhouses, putting wagons on rooftops, etc., Jim said. In order to curb the kids’ enthusiasm for a little mayhem, municipalities got into the action by planning themed parties and offering games and treats as a diversion from the destruction.
To meet the party trend, at the turn of the century and into the 1920s and 30s, there were a multitude of Halloween party guides and booklets published mostly by women, and candy and novelty companies.
A popular inexpensive resource was Dennison’s Bogie Books. Dennison’s sold crepe paper used to decorate and make costumes. Jim Johnson keeps these reproductions on hand for reference and inspiration.
Adventure stories and Gothic literature were popular at that time and have sustained elevated interest at Halloween time. Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventures of buccaneers and buried gold in Treasure Island continues to inspire as seen in recent movie tales of tropical pirating. At Greenfield Village, pirates with sensibilities old and new populate the Suwanee Lagoon and walk among visitors, giving them a taste what it might be like conversing with an 1880s-style high seas treasure seeker.
With a nod to Gothic literature, Dr. Frankenstein has a perfect workspace - setting up shop in Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory.
Mary Shelley’s story of Frankenstein still holds the attention of audiences today, even though the book was first published in the early 1800s.
Another famous character from Gothic literature is making his debut at the village this year. A silent film based on Bram Stoker’s 1887 Dracula is shown near Sarah Jordan Boarding House.
Visitors are captivated by the large projections of the 1922 vampire film Nosferatu (Dracula).
Works of the master of the macabre – Edgar Allen Poe – are highlighted in two prominent stops.
The ravens resting on the railing at Eagle Tavern are treated to the eerie tale twice: narrated once by a famous actor and once by a fictitious man. Visitors can hear the chilling story told by actor Christopher Walken and again by cartoon character Homer Simpson.
Poe makes another appearance near Town Hall where actor Anthony Lucas provides a mesmerizingly haunting performance of the mad man at the center of the Tell-Tale Heart.
A first person account of the Brothers Grimm tale of Hansel and Gretel (with a surprise twist) keeps audiences of all ages intrigued.
Throughout the village – authentically or whimsically – many costume creations are inspired by characters from famous stories of old. Hunchbacks, witches, Little Red Riding Hood, mermaids, fortunetellers, strong men, Merlin the Magician...
… and even a character from Richard Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser.
Near the end of trick-or-treating through the village, visitors can take a seat and listen to the tale that sets the scene for the remainder of their journey – through the dark candle-lit tangles of the Mulberry Grove (not-too-hauntingly) transformed into Sleepy Hallow.
Actor Seth Amadei gives a riveting account of the series of events that led up to the mysterious disappearance of schoolmaster Ichabod Crane in Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hallow.
Visitors just have to pass through the hallow and over the bridge …
Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village - inspired by old, new, mystical, whimsical and just the right amount of spooky.
The calendar tells me that summer ended on September 23 this year. I know better. It really ended with the conclusion of our September 6-7 Old Car Festival, the traditional finish to The Henry Ford’s busy summer event season. But now that it’s fall by anyone’s measure, it seems like a good time to look back on this year’s show.
Approximately 900 cars, trucks and bicycles, none newer than 1932, turned Greenfield Village into a veritable motor museum – and one where most of the vehicles operated, at that! Steam and electric vehicles -- along with a few obscure marques -- offered variety, while the mass of Model Ts and Model As reminded us of how popular those Fords were in their time.