Lions' longest local tradition begins Wednesday
Last updated 3/21/2023 at 6:49pm
Orange's longest-running tradition opens Wednesday, March 22, with the annual Lions Club Carnival. The merry-go-round, the Ferris wheel, the Tilt-a-Whirl, and kiddie cars will be moving to music with lights flashing. The pings of dimes hitting glassware at the dime toss will sound. The smell of hamburgers sizzling will entice people to wait in line for their annual fix.
A 1939 daily newspaper story on the first carnival read "Lions Carnival To Offer Fun For All Ages." The same headline could be used today.
This year it starts at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Lions City Park along Adams Bayou off MacArthur Drive. The hours will be 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and open until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The dates will be Wednesday March 22, then March 23, 24, and 25. The carnival will open again on Wednesday March 29 run through Saturday April 1.
And like the first, and every carnival since 1939, the carnival raises money for a wide variety of charitable causes the Lions Clubs here take on.
Still, the charges are small and the carnival is the annual place for old friends to run into each other and for families to take their children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren.
Charges and tickets are reasonably priced with children 12 and younger getting in free. Entry is $3 for adults and $2 for youth 13-17. Tokens are $1 each and rides cost two tokens, or $2 each. The carnival now takes credit cards, though a small fee will be added for the card use.
Usually, small-town carnivals bring in traveling shows with rides and games, but the Orange Lions Club has a unique event in that the club owns and operates the rides. The county had only one Lions Club back then. Other clubs in the county have formed since then and now participate in the carnival.
Looks like the count has been lost on how many carnivals have been held. Old-timers reported a year or two was skipped during World War II. Hurricane Rita came through as the carnival was being installed by volunteers. The winds twisted the 1930s Ferris Wheel with its wooden benches. Widespread damage led to the carnival's cancelation.
Then Hurricane Ike flooded the carnival before it opened in 2008. The Flying Bob ride floated away. Once again, the carnival was canceled. Then the Covid pandemic led to another skipped year.
Lions members are hoping for good weather this year as they have moved the carnival dates around to avoid hurricane season. However, in recent years, spring rains have made the carnival miss several days. At this time, the National Weather Service is calling for rain on Friday night, but not Saturday.
Besides the rides, game booths are always popular, including the gold fish toss. Players try to get a ping pong ball in a small goldfish bowl. If they get it in, they win a fish. Volunteers working the booth have learned to wear rubber boots because it tends to get muddy by the fish.
For decades now, the carnival has been at the City Park, now known as Lions City Park or Lions Den Park. In the 1940s and 1950s, the carnival was held on the grounds of the old city hall on Green Avenue.
The first carnival was held in July 1939 at Howell Stadium by West End Park. The stadium was by the Old Orange High School on Green Avenue. A football field from the old Tiger stadium is still at 15th Street and Green Avenue where Howell Stadium once stood. Lions City Park is only a block west of the original site.
According to the daily newspaper, the Orange Leader, in 1939 the carnival included Shetland pony rides. The paper helped draw interest when a reporter wrote "tremendous interest and enthusiasm has already been aroused by the rumors that have leaked out" about the carnival.
The first carnival had a dunking booth with a well-targeted baseball thrown could trip a wire to dump a volunteer in a tub of water. Shetland pony rides were given. Food included "Cajun" hamburgers by "Doc" Couvillion. People for decades have raved and craved the Lions Club hamburgers. However, they won't get to have the same drinks as at the first carnival.
That carnival featured buttermilk from Skeeler's Dairy to quaff after eating a burger.
Another game, now dropped, was the "egg toss" with volunteers getting hit by raw eggs, which may or may not have been stinky.
A "dime dance" with a 10-cent admission was held one night in the school gym with an orchestra playing.
Lions Club members listed as participating included J.D. Joiner, "Crip" Trahan, Valton Landrum, Bill Stringer, Bill Terry, Vernon Pennington, Ellis Carter, Charlie Crawford, Vernon Pennington, Raymond Sanders, Lawrence Hustmyre, Mead Graves, Dexter Shelley, Lausine Cox, and Rufus Manley.