Beaver Queen Pageant is coming
by: Ellen Ciompi
A few years ago, I was a contestant on “Jeopardy!” It was an amazing experience, and you can read about it here (if you’re interested). As part of our orientation, each contestant was given a card and asked to write down five notable things that Alex might chat with us about at the break. Among the items I wrote down was, “I am associated with a group in my hometown of Durham, NC, which has an annual Beaver Queen Pageant.” The coordinator, a hyperactive yet charming woman named Maggie, asked me to elaborate. I told her it had been in existence for (at the time) eight years, and that it was just like a regular pageant, with evening gown and swimsuit competitions, a talent portion, interviews, judges, and even a “Miss Congeniality” award. Except that there were a lot of double entendres, everyone used ingenious beaver-inspired pseudonyms, it wasn’t televised, and there were a lot of tails and buck teeth displayed by the cast, crew, and audience.
Maggie was holding her sides laughing as I was explaining the event, and after I finished she said, “Oh my God, that’s hysterical, I wish I could see it!” Then she got all serious and professional, and said, “But of course you know Alex can’t ask you about this.” “Why not?” I queried. “Well, it’s not…..appropriate. Too suggestive. What else do you have?” So we ran down the other items in my list, she starred the her top two choices, and she moved on to the next contestant. (By the way, what do you think happened when Alex interviewed me? He asked me about something that wasn’t even on the card. So much for following the script.)
But if he had asked me, and when anyone asks me about the Beaver Queen Pageant, I usually start by saying, “It’s the most quintessentially Durham event I know,” and that’s the truth.
While other communities might, at the very least, raise a collective eyebrow at such a spectacle, Durham positively embraces it.
The pageant returns to Duke Park on June 6th for the eleventh consecutive year. The story behind the story is in 2004 a family of beavers had taken up residence in the branch of Ellerbe Creek which runs through the park, doing what beavers do, namely, building dams. Unfortunately, flooding ensued both in the park and on the adjoining property of some neighbors. The Duke Park community decided to hold a fundraising event so an expert could be hired to trap and relocate the beavers to a more suitable home. Thus was the Beaver Queen Pageant born. And once birthed, it grew and matured and has made its founders proud.
The Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association (ECWA) is the grateful recipient of all funds raised. It’s an organization devoted to building community ties across Durham with the creek as the connective tissue. They organize cleanups, lead bird watching and plant-identifying events, have provided space and inspiration for many Eagle Scout projects, and acquire land around the creek to preserve and protect it from development.
The Beaver Queen Pageant crowds grow every year, and show up even when it’s raining, or beastly hot–500 or more is average. The food trucks come too, and donate a portion of their receipts to ECWA. Many local businesses are sponsors, donating prizes, sound systems, food, and other support as well as cash. The Scrap Exchange runs a “make your own beaver tail” booth for kids and adults. The Bulltown Strutters entertain with their New Orleans-inspired music.
There have been over 60 Beaver Queen Pageant contestants over the years, with names like June Cleaver Beaver, Beaverella, Fur Pelton John, Scarlett O’Beavah, Ethel Furman, Madame Beavery, The Beave Whisperer, Beach Blanket Beaver, and Beavie Sticks. Celebrity Judges have included Justice Beaver, Charles Gnawson Reilly, Muffy Merkin, Woody Van Pelt, and Beaver Streisand.
There’s a theme each year. This year, it’s “Beavers Do Bollywood,” so I’m expecting lots of fur-covered saris and turbans both in the audience and on stage. I’d be willing to bet that some contestant will charm a snake as his or her talent! Of course there will be dancing, sitar music, and actions designed to “curry” favor with the audience and judges, who, after all, are the ones who vote for the winner. Bribery is the order of the day at the Beaver Queen Pageant, with corruption and vote buying on a level never even imagined by the most rabid election fraud conspiracy theorists in Washington (or Raleigh).
It’s all good family fun, however firmly tongues are planted in cheeks, and it’s all to raise money to keep Ellerbe Creek a healthy and attractive spine that runs through Durham, uniting communities and citizens along the length of its unique habitat. But truly the best thing about the Beaver Queen Pageant is the love with which every one of its activities is imbued. This is the manifestation of the inclusiveness of Durham: all are embraced, all are accepted, all are cheered, all are encouraged. It’s a cliche, but there are no losers at the Beaver Queen Pageant. If you’re there in any capacity, you’re a winner.
So come on out (in every sense of the word)–bring your chairs and blankets and picnic baskets. Bring your Mardi Gras beads, your craziest outfits, your sunglasses, your binoculars, and your tiaras. Bring your kids, your pets, your mother-in-law, your houseguests from Wichita, and your boss. Bring money to purchase votes for your favorite contestant, or perhaps bribe your favorite judge to stuff a ballot box. Get a tee shirt, a bumper sticker, a baseball cap, a coloring book, or some other great swag to support ECWA. Of course bring your appetite and try the fare from a food truck or two….or three…and don’t forget the Locopops! You’ll applaud and sing; you’ll laugh and possibly groan at the jokes. Dancing, music, and great times are guaranteed.
Saturday, June 6th, 4-7PM, at Duke Park. Do it for Durham! Do it for ECWA! Do it for the Beavers!