By Linda Emley
Like all good Ray Countians, I have been hunting mushrooms all my life. I don’t remember life without the spring ritual of walking the woods while looking for morels.
I’m not an expert, but I know to look around May apple plants and dead trees. It has been a few years since we found a big patch of mushrooms, but I’m happy to find enough to have at least one meal of the tasty morels. One of my friends in San Francisco asked if they were “magic mushrooms.” Our morel mushrooms are not psychedelic, but they sure are magical when fried up right.
Mushrooms have been around since the beginning of time. When Buddha died in 543 BC at the age of 80, there were claims made that a bowl of wild mushrooms contributed to his death. Pope Clement VII died in 1534 in Rome after he ate a “death cap” mushroom. The “death cap” mushroom can be found in North America, but we know the difference between a mushroom and a toadstool.
One of my favorite mushroom tales is from the good-old days. My mother told me one spring she and her sister Dorothy Beard drove a Jeep mushroom hunting and came back with the whole back full of mushrooms.
J.B. was working at Wollard’s Garage in Richmond, so they drove in and showed everyone how they had spent the morning. Another favorite story of mine only involves finding one mushroom, but it was sent from heaven.
My grandmother Schooler was in her 80s and was no longer able to walk the ditches on her farm. We always shared our mushrooms with her, but it is the thrill of the hunt that makes them taste so good.
She and I went for a walk around her yard because she said she might find one in her fencerow. I went with her but did not expect to see a miracle like the one I saw when she found a single mushroom in the corner of her yard. You would have thought she had found the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
Since Richmond’s 34th Mushroom Festival is this week, I thought it would be good to share a little modern history about how it all started. There is another town that claims to be the mushroom capital of the world, but there are several reasons why we win the title.
The people of Kenneth Square, Pa. will hold their 28th-annual Mushroom Festival in September. They are having a carnival, a parade and a 5k run just like we do, but we have been celebrating six years longer than they have.
The clincher is that we have morel mushrooms while they only have portabella mushrooms. Are portabellas really mushrooms? They sure look like toadstools to me.
Yes, mushrooms are found all over the world, but I am 100-percent sure Richmond is the “Mushroom Capital of the World,” because our city council says we are. On April 16, 1980, the Richmond city council met at 7:30 p.m. and approved the following resolution:
“Mr. Howard Hill, publisher of the Daily News, Jack Pointer and another person from the Chamber of Commerce appeared before the Richmond City Council and requested a passage of a resolution to make Richmond the Mushroom Capital of the World. Councilman Swafford moved that RESOLUTION NO 228-(80) be approved. Councilman Proffitt seconded the motion. Ayes: Swafford, Proffitt, Cooper, Jorgensen, Austin, Wolfe, Thomas, Hardison. Nayes: none. Motion Carried. Our Mayor was C.B. Thompson, Jr., City Attorney was Roger Driskell, Chief of Police was John Moore, Sam Freel was the City Clerk, the Richmond City Council was Ed Lee Swafford, James Hardison, Larry Proffitt, Carol Thomas, Ed Wolfe, James Austin, John Jorgensen and Byron Cooper.”
And as they say, the rest is history.
The first Mushroom Festival was held May 7-9 in 1981. Bob McDonald was chairman of Mushroom Mania, Inc. Dean Snow was chairman of the flea market and food booths for Mushroom Mania. Twenty-seven vendors were stationed at the west and north side of the square. We had a beer garden, a carnival, a beard contest, a mushroom contest, a parade and a mushroom cooking contest. We even made it to TV news.
Richmond’s hometown celebrity, Valissa Smith, was in town with her St. Joseph Channel 2 news crew and video- taped many of the events. It aired as a segment called “Friends and Neighbors.”
Another one of Richmond’s celebrities, 61 Country disk jockey Phil Young, was the judge for the Best Beard Contest. We had lawnmower races, bingo, a car show and mechanical bull rides. And who could forget the tours of Richmond that were offered from 1 to 5 p.m.
Ray County Historical Society is hosting a booth at this year’s festival. I will be there and we will have a nice collection of Civil War Books for sale by our friends from The Burnt District Press. Please stop by and say hello. We will also be hosting a rock-‘n’-roll music jam at Eagleton at 5 p.m. Saturday May 3. Give me a call at the museum, 816-776-2305, if you have any questions or suggestions.