In 1936 the Winter Garden Chamber of Commerce organized its first Spinach Festival. Bushels of spinach surrounded the platform, and people dressed as Popeye and other Popeye cartoon characters danced with joy as the band played “La Paloma.” Texas Governor James V. Allred proudly proclaimed Crystal City as “The Spinach Capital of the World” that same year.
Virginia Speedy was the first Acelga Queen. Princesses were Evelyn Moore, Dorothy Cox, Charlotte Spun, Lanice J. Parsons, Marianne Reeves & Ruby Englert.
The first festival was a great success and the tradition of the annual event held until 1941 when World War II ended all festivals.
In 1982, forty-one years later, the Spinach Festival was revived. On March 6, 1987 Crystal City Festival Association President Mike Delgado presented a letter from President Ronald Reagan to the residents of Crystal City recognizing it as the nation’s leading producer and shipper of spinach in the world.
The Crystal City Festival Association commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Popeye statue during the Spinach Festival on November 12 – 15, 1987, and the entire community responded with enormous enthusiasm to the unforgettable celebration. During the Festival, Delgado unveiled a proclamation from King Features Syndicate, Incorporated wherein the President of the Board, Joseph F. DiAngelo, promoted every resident of Crystal City to captaincy in Popeye’s crew. Dignitaries from all over the United States, as well as special guests from all parts of the world, have gathered to pay special tribute to the Spinach Capital of the World and its patron Saint Popeye.
The Crystal City Spinach Festival is a family-oriented celebration of Crystal City’s agricultural heritage and is held every second weekend in November. More than 60,000 people come to Crystal City to celebrate during the three-day event that includes a parade, free musical entertainment by famous and soon-to-be famous musical groups, a spinach cook-off, 5K run, custom car show, dance contests, arts and crafts, sports tournaments, beauty pageant, carnival, and much more.
In 1996 the Festival was chosen as one of the top 200 events by Special Events Network magazine on their “Coast to Coast” event map, and has also been mentioned in issues of Texas Highway and Texas Monthly magazines, and has been recognized by the publishers of the Special Event Industry and Event Business News, two leading publications in the special event industry.
Sometime during 1936 Ernest Mortenson of the Winter Garden Chamber of Commerce suggested sending a note of appreciation to E.C. Segar for his promotion of spinach through his Popeye cartoons. E.C. Segar was the originator of the famous spinach-eating hero of the high seas. He replied to the Chamber letter, assuring them that spinach was his favorite food and that he wanted all his children to enjoy eating this nutritious food. His letter was printed in the local paper – the Zavala Sentinel – and eventually found its way to the San Antonio Express News. A reader of that paper, O.P. Schnabel, suggested that a Popeye statue be built funded by public donations. Plans for the statue were made and sent to Segar for approval; he loved the idea of having a statue that would symbolize the nutritional value of his beloved spinach. He sanctioned the creation of the statue in Crystal City, and drew a special cartoon with Popeye, Olive Oyl and Wimpy coming to the Crystal City Spinach Festival.
On March 26, 1937 the Popeye statue was dedicated and Schable visited to help dedicate the scultpture “To All The Children Of The World.” Two local beauties, Marion Brennan and Doris Williams, posed on the Popeye statue for National Geographic Magazine.
Segar never had the opportunity to visit the testament to his enduring cartoon character, though, as he died in 1938 of Hodgkin’s Disease at the age of 44.