If you have spoken to people in Door County recently, you know that spring was a long time coming this year! Now that it has finally arrived, with all its sunny weather and beautiful blossoms, everyone is anxiously waiting for the first day of SUMMER. The calendar tells us the big day will be June 21. That means that Ephraim’s early summer festival, FYR BAL, is fast approaching. It will occur on June 20th, the day before Father’s Day.
Fyr Bal is the Norwegian spelling for Fire Ball, or bonfire. It refers to the ring of bonfires that are lighted around the shores of Eagle Harbor at dusk on this local holiday.
We thought perhaps you might enjoy reading a little about the history of this festival.
From the opening of the first hotel in 1897 to the middle 1950s, the summer season for all Ephraim hotels lasted for just two months, July and August! Although the hotels opened their doors on Memorial weekend, the tourists usually came only for that long weekend and went home again. In 1962, Tom and Mally Mayhew of the Knudson House wondered why more people didn’t come to enjoy the beauty of the month of June. They decided to make an event of the summer solstice, in hopes of interesting many of their regular guests to make a special visit.
The Mayhews already had a Scandinavian theme in their hotel, so they simply expanded on it. They hired a group of little girls from Washington Island who could dance to old Norwegian folk tunes while wearing traditional Norwegian costumes. A traditional meal was served to their guests, featuring Norwegian and Swedish dishes, prizes of all kinds were given, and after watching the dancers perform on the beach, a bonfire was lighted. It was a great success, so the Mayhews discussed it with their fellow hotel owners and Ephraim business people, and soon they all decided to make it a village festival.
The first village Fyr Bal was held in 1965. It was presided over by a mystery Chieftain, whose identity was not revealed until the evening. The very first chieftain was Dr. William Sneeberger, Ephraim’s beloved physician! Everyone appreciated how much fun the event was, so Ephraim determined to make it an annual occurrence. Last June (2014) we all celebrated the 50th anniversary of Fyr Bal!
Many thanks to the Ephraim Business Council for sponsoring this day. We can tell you that EHF has certainly enjoyed participating (look for our tram)!
We hope all of you will want to take part in this special day. There will be many kinds of fun to look forward to, from the library book sale in the early morning, to the bonfires circling the shore at dusk, and to fireworks after dark.
There will be a full complement of events throughout the day, including Artisan vendors with interesting wares of all kinds in Harborside Park.
The kids will enjoy face painting and games on the lawn, The Hardy Gallery will have crafts in the Village Hall, and new this year is a wooden shoe carving demonstration. There is an old fashioned cake walk, the Ephraim Moravian Church will offer free slices of Moravian Sugar Cake with coffee so many things to enjoy! Click here to look over this year’s schedule of events.
Of course, the big question always is who will be the new Chieftain?
It is considered an honor to be elected Chieftain, because the friends and neighbors in the town elect him/her.
(There is no electioneering and no running for office! If you are an Ephraim resident, or own property here, you are eligible to vote for the Chieftain at the Village Information Center, on Water Street, right up until 3 P.M. on the Friday before the event.)
The highlight of the event is when the new Chieftain, accompanied by little boys dressed as honor pages, arrives by boat, steps onto South Shore Pier, and processes to the Village Hall to claim his/her title for the coming year. After donning the royal robe, the chieftain is escorted across the road to light the official bonfire. Immediately, the other waiting bonfires are lighted, and it’s a lovely sight to see them circling the lake.
The 2014 Chieftain was Jane Olson, pictured here.
We look forward to seeing you in Ephraim June 20th, particularly near the Village Hall between 7 P.M. and 8 P.M. when the Norwegian Dancers perform, and the Chieftain arrives.
Have a wonderful time!