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May Pole dancers were featured in this 1964 photo of May Day festivities at Chattanooga Central High School. Photo by Bob Sherrill from ChattanoogaHistory.com.

Depending on your orientation, May Day is either an international distress signal, a workers' holiday celebrated in the former Soviet Union or a spring festival featuring May Pole dancing.

This photo, obviously, represents the latter.

It took some digging but we discovered that this 1964 Chattanooga News-Free Press photo was taken at the May Day celebration at Chattanooga Central High School, then located on Dodds Avenue.

In the 1960s, May Day celebrations were common at Chattanooga area high schools as students enjoyed the traditional spring festival, which often featured the crowning of a May Day king and queen.

In 1964, the Central High May Day queen was Pat Ramsey and the king was Johnny Slater, according to a newspaper report. The event in the photo was staged on the school's front campus under the watchful eye of then-principal W.H. Millsaps.

The newspaper reported similar events that year at Howard High School, East Ridge High School, Chattanooga (City) High School and Girls Preparatory School, where the tradition continues to this day.

This photo is part of a collection of vintage newspaper images on the website ChattanoogaHistory.com, curated by local history buff Sam Hall.

More Info

Launched by history enthusiast Sam Hall in 2014, ChattanoogaHistory.com is maintained to present historical images in the highest resolution available.

If you have photo negatives, glass plate negatives, or original non‐digital prints taken in the Chattanooga area, contact Sam Hall for information on how they may qualify to be digitized and preserved at no charge.

The caption on the photo, which was taken by photographer Bob Sherrill and published in the newspaper's society pages, reads: "Girls in pastel dresses wound the traditional May Pole."

According to the website of the National Museum of American History, May Day festivals became popular in the United States in the second half of the 19th Century. The celebration has roots in Roman culture and was a holiday observed throughout Europe by the medieval period.

Central High School was established in 1907. In 1969, the school was moved from Dodds Avenue to its present location on Highway 58 in Harrison.

The newspaper page on which this photo appeared also contained an advertisement for Fowler Brothers furniture and appliance store on Seventh and Broad streets. In 1964, Fowler Brothers was advertising a generic, two-slice toaster for $18, which would translate to roughly $144 in 2021 dollars.

The May Day tradition continues into the 21st century at Chattanooga's Girls Preparatory School, where it has been part of the school's calendar since 1914. In the 1920s, GPS archives note, the May Day Queen honor automatically went to the student with the longest hair.

Follow the "Remember When, Chattanooga?" public group on Facebook.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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