Shepherdstown marks May Day

May 02, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- In the parade were vestal virgins, two guys carrying a long log, people dancing with painted faces and bells on their pants, children and dogs in costume, a woods monster, a green man, the Traveling Wheelbarrows and a guy riding on a chicken.

It was May Day in Shepherdstown.

"It started in my meadow about 15 years ago," said Laura First, an early organizer of the event.

In medieval times, illiterate farm folks tried to protect their planting seasons from evil spirits and the elements with dances. The dances also served as fertility rites.

"If we don't remember the old ways, we can lose our community and touch with the Earth process. If you want it today, you have to create it," First said in explaining why the Shepherdstown festival has continued over the years.

Lloyd Lachow, 57, of Reisterstown, Md., said he's been celebrating May Day for years. Saturday was his first in Shepherdstown.


Lachow was among several dozen Morris dancers participating in the parade and Maypole dance that followed. The log carried in the parade became the Maypole.

Lachow described Morris dancing as a tradition so old, its history has been lost in the mist of time. It harkens back to a time when man's relationship with the Earth began with spring planting time, he said. It was a rite of simple folk.

"The literati of the time were not involved," he said.

Three types of Morris dancers performed Saturday -- Coxwell, Border and Cloggers.

The dancers brought their own musicians who played an assortment of penny whistles, flutes, an accordion, a concertina, fiddles and a drum.

The Green Man, representing the spirit in life in spring and the renewal of the forest, was played for the 10th year by Mike Pratt of Shepherdstown.

Shepherdstown Mayor Jim Auxer read a proclamation marking Arbor Day in Shepherdstown and denoting the town a "tree city." He pointed to the $1.1 million streetscape renovation project under way on the town's main street that includes the planting of dozens of trees.

"Whenever trees are planted, it's a source of joy and spiritual renewal," Auxer said.

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