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About The daily Astorian. (Astoria, Or.) 1961-current | View Entire Issue (Aug. 6, 2019)
Celebrating 125 years of community and tradition
HISTORY OF ASTORIA REGATTA
Celebrating 125 years
of Regatta royalty
BY LUCY KLEINER
hen Marilyn Gustafson was 18 years old, she rode
into Astoria on a huge, royal elephant. The year was
1953, and the carnival in town was the biggest
celebration in the county – the Astoria Regatta.
Gustafson wore a dainty crown on her head and a
long dress that flowed to her feet. One of the circus
workers leaned a ladder against the animal’s rough
skin, and the elephant keeper pulled her up on its back.
“I climbed up, and the two of us rode the elephant,” Gustafson said. “I sat
right on the back of its forehead.”
Together they marched through downtown, Gustafson high on the
elephant’s back in her royal Regatta attire. Community members gathered
and called out her name while she greeted them. Her dad snapped a photo
on their old film camera.
“You get that wave on your hand,” she said. Gustafson, now 84, is one of
the oldest living Regatta queens.
That was 66 years ago. While the circus no longer comes to town and film
negatives have been replaced by smartphone cameras, Regatta queens still
ride through Astoria, greeting Clatsop County in the same way.
“It’s called the ‘elbow-elbow-wrist-wrist,’” said current Regatta Queen
Catherine Tapales, 17.
Tapales spent the last two years running around the county working on
public speeches and perfecting the parade wave, like the many Regatta
queens before her.
On Wednesday, Aug. 7, through Saturday, Aug. 10, the community will join
together in royal celebration for the 125th time. Community members will
walk, drive and fly to the northern coast to celebrate their home, neighbors
and the people who built the town. It will also be an evening of emotion and
history, as the 125th Regatta Queen is crowned at the Queen’s Coronation.
It’s one of the oldest festivals west of the Rocky Mountains, and in the
10 • ASTORIA REGATTA 2019
Astoria Regatta Queen Rachelle Sims (1995)
Astoria Regatta Queen Lydia Seabold (1952)
Regatta and its queens have survived the tests of
history. They have seen both world wars come and
go, watched flames swallow the city and welcomed
more than a century of fishing boats home.
Nelson started the fund with her husband. When
she was on the court 38 years ago, each princess was
“It was something we wanted to do to honor the
queens and the extra hard work they do,” Nelson said.
Changing with the times
While the festival continues to recognize young
women for their dedication to the community, a lot
has changed, too. When Lydia Seabold was crowned
in 1952, the first queen after WWII, she used a
telephone operator to call her girlfriends before they
met at the soda fountain at Lawson’s Confectionery.
Patti Nelson, the 1981 queen, and her friends would
fold little paper notes up and pass them in the hall
with times to meet at the Tapiola swimming pool.
“We didn't have Google maps,” Nelson said.
“Everyone knew where everyone lived.”
Rachelle Sims, crowned in 1995, still remembers
the day her stepdad installed her own personal
landline in the house so chats with her friends
wouldn’t tie up the family’s business calls.
“We used an actual, real life, on the wall landline,”
Today, Tapales uses Snapchat to reach her friends.
The ceremony has evolved over the years. One of
the biggest changes: the queen’s bonus. In addition
to the $4,000 awarded to each princess, an
additional $1,500 scholarship is granted to the queen
to help cover the cost of college and reward her for
another year of work with Regatta.
Being a Regatta queen is no easy task, especially
for a high school senior. It’s a year of 4 a.m. wakeup
calls, civic projects and stressful speeches.
“They’re very bright young ladies who really grow
during their time on court,” said Charlene Larsen,
who served as Regatta President in 1995 and has
worked with the festival for 49 years.
“It’s amazing to see just how accomplished these
No matter the decade they were crowned, every
queen remembers the public speaking that
accompanied the tiaras.
Part of the requirement of the Regatta court is
that the speeches are memorized by the Queen’s
“I think the public speaking was a great asset to
me personally,” Nelson said. “I didn't really anticipate
benefiting from it that way.”
The young women spend months drilling the
presentation into their brains. Sims remembers
speeches from multiple girls on her court. Nelson
can still recite her opening line.
“I am the Astor Column … ”
Astoria Regatta Queen Catherine Tapales (2018)
Gustafson, the Regatta Queen from 1953, will
make the trip back to Astoria from Portland for the
festival. She still talks on the phone with Seabold
every other day.
Tapales, who will soon wrap up her time with
Regatta, recalls the first speech she had to do as a
member of the court. “I didn’t have my speech
memorized yet so I had it on notecards,” she said. “I
remember I was trembling, and I was trying not to
drop my notecards. It was really scary.”
By the time coronation came around, she knew
every word of her speech.
“They’re very bright young ladies who
really grow during their time on court,”
said Charlene Larsen who served as
Regatta President in 1995 and has
worked with the festival for 49 years.
ASTORIA REGATTA 2019 • 11