Lilac Festivals past

Lilac Festivals past

5/11/20, Highland Park. David Kramer [Photo: passerby who works nearby and and enjoys walking through the festival; other photos by David Kramer. Note mask along with umbrella.]

No Lilac Festival will be held this spring. We’ll see no signs under sparkling skies directing locals and tourists towards Rochester’s celebration of itself as the Flower City.


On Elmwood Avenue. 5/10/17

Today, on this gloomy and record breaking chilly day — no snow was the only consolation — I walked the empty bowl where the bandstand should be rocking and food trucks feeding the dancing masses.

As seen below today’s pictures, we’ve visited the festival several times in 2016 and 2017. Hopefully, this look at Lilac Festivals past will be a one time event.

Geese near the Highland Crossing Trail normally packed with vehicles during the Lilac Festival, 5/11/20

5/11/20 (right) The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Walk of Honor. Far bollard: Richard F. Yatkau, DOB 7/31/47 KIA 8/30/68, Monroe High SchooLs; near bollard: Daniel J. Bermingham, DOB 1/9/47 KIA 8/23/68 Notre Dame High School

5/12/20 On the right sign, perhaps in an unfortunate act of vandalism, the paint on then-County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo’s name was removed.

the Lilac Arches

(l-r) in the Monroe County Park’s Lilac Adventure Zone; near the Lamberton Conservatory; next to bench: In Loving Memory of Mary and Jack Hedges, 2003


In Living Lilac. On the Road, at 9:06 in morning Carl Gaedt sets the stage and Chris Beyer mixes Sarah Mclachlan’s Surfacing (1997) when the Lilac Festival comes to life after another evening of partying under the stars.

Carl Gaedt, main stage at the Lilac Festival 9:06 a.m. 5/9/16

We met the vendors — Rick, Dan, Maria, Lazarus, Joe and Livia — who live for the duration of the festival in the encampment traveling,  while around the northeast selling food and entertainment at festivals like ours.


Livia Green from Massachusetts. From Living Lilac. On the Road

We danced with Eileen and SkyCoasters Eileen, hung out with Scott Virkus and interviewed by Amy Hudak News 8.

(l-r) at the SkyCoasters with Eileen [Photo: Jose]; Scott Virkus; interviewed by Amy Hudak [Photo: Jeff Rusak, News 8] From Living Lilac. On the Road

In A modest proposal for the Festival’s troubles. Bring back the Lilac Queen. And add a King, we searched in vain for the festival’s missing monarch. We also suggested the festival re-instate the monarchy to help curb festival mayhem.


Democrat and Chronicle, 5/15/1930 [Courtesy of the Rochester Public Library’s Local History Room] From A modest proposal for the Festival’s troubles. Bring back the Lilac Queen. And add a King

(right) Winners of the Lilac Queen contest, Miss Mary K. Wesson (left) maid of honor, and Miss Christine Blackwell, Lilac Queen, 1930, the Albert R. Stone Negative Collection, Rochester Museum & Science Center, Rochester, NY from Talker gets some lilac love from the Democrat and Chronicle

In Talker gets some lilac love from the Democrat and Chronicle, our proposal received attention from a local newspaper. With a new controversial festival rule that children 16 and under must have parental supervision, our non-coercive idea makes even more sense.

Monica at the bike rack at the Lilac Festival from On bikes and writing: Bike Writers

Because I had biked to the Lilac Festival to see the vendors on the way to see Geva’s “May Queen”, I met Monica Majcher who was taking a picture of her bike alongside blooming Lilacs. An artist in several mediums, Monica, just returned from a 9 month trek across the U.S. — including Burning Man — just in time for the Lilac Festival.

Dave Kramer (left) with Dave Dowd. [Photo Monica Majcher from On bikes and writing: Bike Writers]

At the bike rack, I met Monica’s friend Dave Dowd, a teacher at French Road Elementary School in Brighton handing out flyers for a new group: Bike Writers. The journey ended in the now-filled abandoned subway entrance on South Avenue.


As seen in Charlotte Lahr (1970 – 2017), the 2017 festival was tinged with sadness.  Tragically, in March, Charlotte Lahr was murdered in her wine and liquor store across from the park.  In the year she ran the store, Char was a beaming presence right across from the festival, always generous with her white wine samplings for thirsty festival goers.  One year, Char and I were going to nominate Mr. Lilac Festivals. The candidates were to preen outside the store, while customers could vote for the kingliest.

(left) Lilac Festival parade Lilac Festival. Float passing Charlotte Lahr’s business. 5/13/17; (right) A remembrance shrine remains outside the store 5/10/17. See Charlotte Lahr (1970 – 2017)

At the parade and over the course of the festival, tens of thousands will meander through Highland Park.  Much of the park is well-trod territory. tourists and Rochesterians know of sites like the Sunken Gardens, the Conservatory and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

(left) Spencerport’s Hannah Lopa, Miss New York 2017; (right) The Guardian, Created by Leonard Urso, 1998, Dedicated to the AIDS Remembrance Garden, May 2004, A Gift from The Avenue Pub – Rochester. From The Guardian, the Crime Victims Memorial and other tucked away gems in Highland Park

As seen in The Guardian, the Crime Victims Memorial and other tucked away gems in Highland Park, what many miss are some tucked away pleasures in the area below the Vietnam Memorial and in the wooded copse next to  the former Cornell Cooperative Extension, as now the Monroe County Park’s Lilac Adventure Zone.

One of the more colorful tucked away gems is a wooden bench on a trail behind the Lilac Adventure Zone and near The Guardian and the Crime Victims Memorial.

The bench is a little below and between The Guardian and the Crime Victims Memorial in the lower green area, (County Park map of Highland Park)

During the festival, the bench is a favorite spot for workers who like to escape the festival hubbub for a quiet smoke or vape.

Dave and Haley from Bradford, PA in town to work at the festival. see The Guardian, the Crime Victims Memorial and other tucked away gems in Highland Park

Over the decades, based on debris and paraphernalia occasionally scattered about, the bench appears to be a place of earthly pleasures: legal, quasi-legal and perhaps illegal. Evidence suggests the horizontal bench has been the site of amore of various permutations. As testament to their spiritual and earthly devotion, two smitten lovers, AK and MR, carved their initials inside a heart.

Loved carved in wood. Perhaps Fireball (cinnamon whiskey) puts visitors in the mood. 5/11/20

Unfortunately, last winter the rotting bench finally buckled and splintered, perhaps by a heavy snow or strong icing. I reported the broken bench to the Monroe County Parks Department; no repairs have been undertaken.


Perhaps the breaking of the wood planks, along with the current norms of social and personal distancing, have rendered the bench a less desirable destination for lovers and stoners or both.

Located on the Highland Drive side of the park, another under recognized site is the Worker’s Rights Memorial: a pillar with embedded plaques and permanent marker inscribed with a quote from Mother Jones: Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.

2017 Lilac Festival in Highland Park. John Schmidt and Kim Rivers-Van Ness from Mourning for the dead and fighting for the living in Highland Park

As seen in Mourning for the dead and fighting for the living in Highland Park, during the 2017 festival, asked people for their impressions of the the pillar, plaques and or the marker. Of about or dozen or so respondents, only one had previously seen the monument.

2017 Lilac Festival in Highland Park. (l) Gilbert Ortega; (c) Kelsey and Motis; (r) John Bracken from Mourning for the dead and fighting for the living in Highland Park


The Remember Garden in Highland Park refurbished and beautified in time for the Lilac Festival

The Remember Garden in Highland Park and a missing bench plaque (now explained!)

Living Lilac. On the Road.

A modest proposal for the Festival’s troubles. Bring back the Lilac Queen. And add a King

Talker gets some lilac love from the Democrat and Chronicle

The Guardian, the Crime Victims Memorial and other tucked away gems in Highland Park

Mourning for the dead and fighting for the living in Highland Park

Rochester Goes to Seed and Eventually Gets a Kick in the Aster!

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


  1. Concerned Citizen

    I hope that passerby had some hand sanitizer to use, after they took your camera from you, to hold and use. Did you have hand sanitizer to use, after they gave it back to you?? Unbelievable. Not wise. Why is this virus so hard for people to understand??


      Covid-19 is more contagious that most viruses. But it is not as contagious as you think. Nor probably as virulent. For example, in the time period when covid-19 was spreading thoughout NYC, millions of people had the kinds of contact you suggest, or something similar. By your reasoning, if it were as contagious as you think, virtually EVERY New Yorker would have received a potentially life ending infection. What we know is that covid spreads (much more aggressively than other viruses but only by degrees, it’s not some unknown, never before seen identity) by sustained contact between people, such a sitting next to someone at a football game. Instances like you mention account for a very, very very small number of cases. AND those cases are generally not serious ones.


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