SLUG FEST 2004: FUN BUT CONTROVERSIAL
A History of Slug Fest
Launched in 1963, Slug Fest was the brainchild of Professor Owen Graham, Whispering Pines’ most prestigious citizen. In 1963, however, his status within the community was that of a young, untenured professor.
Responsible at that time for counseling students without a declared major, Graham noted a disturbing trend toward depression in February and March. As six months of winter rain caught up with these young people, alcohol related incidents went up and grades went down.
Bringing his concerns before university officials, Graham recommended that the university sponsor an event during the last week of February to acknowledge and celebrate the local climate. The student organizers of that first event decided that the slug, the most common of all Oregonian wildlife and second only to household mold, would make a perfect mascot. Reasoning that slugs need the moisture of winter, yet thrive in the gardens of spring, they felt that slugs provided the best symbol for students.
The first Slug Fest was successful beyond Dr. Graham’s dreams. To the surprise of university officials, the festival was even more popular among the families of faculty members than it was among the students. The following year, members of the Whispering Pines community were invited, and it quickly became one of the highlights of the town’s social calendar.
In 1971, responsibility for organizing and running the annual Slug Fest passed from the University of Oregon to the Whispering Pines City Council, and the location of the event shifted from the Whispering Pines campus to Indian Lake Park.
In 1983, the Slug Fest was pushed back from late winter to early spring. This decision, standing in stark contrast to the original intent, has been hotly debated for two decades, with the actual date of the Slug Fest wavering every year from mid-February to early April.
Professor Graham received tenure in 1968, and an endowed Professorship in 1980. In 1989, he became the Dean of the Whispering Pines satellite campus, a position he retained until his retirement in 2002. The current holder of the Owen K. Graham Professor of History chair is Myrna Bryant, who also serves as the head of the History
by Claire Olney
Last Saturday, Whispering Pines held its 41st Annual Slug Fest. Originally conceived by Dr. Owen Graham (see
sidebar), the Slug Fest celebrates the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Along with the Berry Fest, it is a high point of the Whispering Pines calendar, though not completely free of controversy.
Slug Fest organizers believe that this year’s turnout was the largest to date. Carrying out a 40-year tradition, Dr. Owen Graham, aged 72, opened the festivities at 10 a.m. when he hoisted the Slug Fest banner and proclaimed 2004 as “The Year of the Slug.”
To the surprise of many Slug Festers, last Saturday was unusually sunny and warm, eventually reaching a record high of 93 degrees. Amid the expected grumbles from old-time festers who prefer to see the festival held during the dreary month of February, most attendees said the beautiful weather was a fair trade for tradition. Café Caffeine employee Jack James commented, “I’m happy to lose my rain jacket for the day! I’m just here to enjoy the sluggy fun.”
As in previous years, patrons flocked to the slug-sized model of Whispering Pines, the Slugroussel, the Slugnel of Love, and the perennial favorite, the dried slug museum with its frequent performances of Hamlet. A new addition this year, a slime slide made out of Jell-O, proved to be very popular with the younger crowd. There were five blocks of craft stands, selling every type of slug memorabilia that one could imagine, and a huge food court with stands pushing SlugDogs, SlugCakes, SlugSlushies, and slug-shaped candies. There were various athletic competitions, the Slug Bowl charity game, and many, many carnival games.
The vast majority of attendees would probably agree with young Mark
Benson, who proclaimed this year’s Slug Fest “the best ever!” However, a number of attendees, including mayoral candidate Councilman Calvin Ahr, called this year’s event a complete disaster.
Mayoral Candidate Ahr very critical of this year’s festival
Last week, the November elections seemed little more than a formality. Though Mayor Jean Kellogg is still expected to win, she may have a tough race on her hands. Councilman Ahr believes he has found the issue that might unseat her: a charge of widespread corruption among the planning committee that filtered down to the officials of various contests.
Ahr charges that SluggerFest Champion Buffy Summers won a fixed contest. SluggerFest participants wield padded staffs, requiring a great deal on brute strength. He questions whether a young woman who barely tops 5 feet 2 inches could have won such a competition without illicit assistance.
Witnesses, however, dismiss such speculation as pure sexism.
“I was there,” asserts high school senior Tim McCray. “The guy she was fighting really was giving it his all; she was just better. In fact, she was awesome! There is no way Buffy Summers didn’t win the title of SluggerFest champion fair and square!”
Ahr’s second charge is a bit more difficult to discount: that the attendant at the Slugfest Tower Power rigged the contest to ensure that victory went to crowd favorite Rupert Giles.
According to the rules, the Giant Slug Tower Power Master of 2004 was to be decided among contestants who managed to hit the Power Master platform with sufficient force to knock the figurine off his throne. Only Giles made it to that final round, and the title was given to him by default.
However, according to disappointed competitor, Peter Ahr, Giles didn’t actually make it to the final round at all. “That guy didn’t knock the Master off, he just barely touched the platform. But because he had an eyepatch, the guy running it just gave it to him. I was discriminated against just because I don’t have a handicap!”
In support of Ahr’s allegations, however, it is worth noting that the Rupert Giles who works at the U. of O. as a history professor has never been seen with an eyepatch before the competition in question. Muddying waters still further is the fact that Professor Giles (assuming that the winner is indeed he) never showed up to accept his prize. When asked to comment, he declined.
Councilman Ahr’s third charge is far more substantial: that officials in the slug race were grossly negligent in their duties. Roughly half an hour before the races were to begin, an unidentified girl ran out of the race tent loudly proclaiming that her champion racer had been stolen. When alarmed slug owners went to check on their own contestants, they soon discovered that all of the slugs had been mixed up and rearranged.
It took over an hour to resort the slugs, and not all slug owners were content with the final redivision. One creature that was hotly contested among three slug owners eventually
won the race and a $100 gift certificate to Le Bec Fin. The determined owner of the slug and lucky winner of the race? Ten-year old Christopher Kellogg, grandson of Mayor Kellogg.
It seems likely that the culprit of the slug mix-up was a high-spirited youngster, simply looking to perform a highly visible prank.
However, the suggestion that the Mayor’s grandson may have unfairly benefited from this prank has Councilman Ahr calling foul. In fact, even the Mayor’s supporters are calling for a thorough investigation of the matter. Whatever this investigation might reveal, it is clear that this scandal has breathed new life into Calvin Ahr’s campaign.
Giant slugs at Slug Fest?
There were widespread allegations that a group of young people transported
"giant mutant slugs" all around the festival for much of the afternoon. Unlikely as this claim sounds, almost a dozen people claim to have seen them. Witnesses include teenagers, established members of the community and Dave Kincaid, a Channel Five News reporter.
Kincaid in particular is most insistent that he saw five
exceptionally large slugs go into the Slugnel of Love, though he is unable to ascertain their current whereabouts. His cameraman, Marty Reimschneider, has no pictures to support this claim, however, and suggests that his partner fell victim to a hoax.
Despite lacking concrete evidence, local environmentalists believe the creatures would support their claim that Papyrus Paper Company has systematically polluted Crystal Water Lake and damaged the surrounding ecosystem. PPC continues to deny all wrongdoing,. Biologists at the University of Oregon say that the existence of these mutant slugs, if substantiated, would require major revisions of our understanding of inveterate creatures.
Perennial favorite sorely missed
Since 1981, the Whispering Pines Coven has served up a perennial favorite of Slug Festers: “slug soup.” Each year, attendees happily wait in long lines just to get a taste of this annual treat. On Saturday, however, the Coven booth was abandoned for several hours, denying Slug Festers the coveted soup. No explanation was given for their absence.