May Day, May Day, this is Shepherdstown


SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.VA. - "America, come twist these strands about the pole with us ... to celebrate the Earth ... to celebrate the final parking of our cars ..."

Poet Edward "Ed" Zahniser composed those words for one of Shepherdstown's first May Day celebration's 11 years ago, but their meaning still resonated true with the family crowd that gathered Saturday on McMurran Hall's east lawn for this year's Maypole ceremony.

"It was lost for years," Zahniser said of "Shepherdstown May Day 1997," a poem he dedicated in memory of the late 20th-century poet Irwin Allen Ginsburg.

A writer and editor for the National Park Service, Zahniser's readings were roundly applauded by a crowd basked in breezy sunshine and treated to a taste of colorful Old English and Celtic old European-style dance, costumes and music.


His mother's declining health led to the discovery in December of the copy of the poem he gave her in a box of papers.

"I sent her a copy and lost my own," Zahniser said of the work, which echoed the style of a poem his father wrote in the mid-1930s that was published in Scientific Monthly, titled "America Grows Corn."

Saturday's annual celebration was all about rebirth and growth, particularly rooted in symbolic gestures representing the development of life, from the very young to maturity and reproduction. Young children had a prominent role in the festivities, including a 20-minute parade of Maypole ceremony participants east on German Street.

A sign affixed to a green wagon carrying a young boy said, "May Kid says plant trees for your mother."

Young children riding in decorated wheelbarrows were parked close together at the end of the parade route, then a young man did a springboard flip over them, landing safely upright on a hastily placed blue gymnastic cushion at the intersection of German and King streets.

The processional then made its way to the east lawn next to McMurran Hall, where festival co-organizer Laura First welcomed people to the Maypole ceremony.

The white dresses worn by the young women participating in the ceremony represented "the first light in the morning of May 1," First told the crowd.

"I'd like the ladies in white to bloom where they've been planted," First said to queue their dancing.

The ceremony culminated with the weaving of multiple colors around the pole in a dance. The younger children were able to take part in weaving smaller poles off to each side.

"This is very much an English tradition," First said.

The ceremony ended with a first-ever group photograph being taken in front of McMurran Hall facing German Street.

"It's been wonderful," said Jan Dommerich of Frederick, Md. "When I was growing up in Wisconsin, we always made 'May baskets.'"

But she never knew exactly how the wrapping of the Maypole was done.

"Now, I have a little better idea," she said.

Jim Meads of Glenville, W.Va., was urged by his daughter, Rachel, to visit the daylong festival, which began with a scavenger hunt and ended with a traditional English dance.

"Only in Shepherdstown," Meads said of the experience. "What other town has more parades? None."

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