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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Bringing in the ramps, April 1954
Bringing in the ramps. First Ramp Festival, April 1954 Photo courtesy Newport Plain Talk

Ramp Festival

Festivals celebrating a community point of pride were not commonplace in 1954 when the Cosby Ruritan Club of Cocke County decided to establish a celebration centered around the ramp, a wild plant which was a common spring staple in this Appalachian Region of southern Tennessee. The festival originated in the desire of the Cosby locals who "deplored the fact that the Cocke County acreage of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park had been largely neglected and unpublicized since the park's founding," and sought a "gimmick" with which to focus attention on the area and generate tourism.

The result was a two-day weekend festival honoring the potent mountain ramp, "the sweetest tasting and vilest smelling vegetable in Mother Nature's bounty." An edible member of the onion family, the ramp is alternately called the wild leek, taking its name from a similar plant, the rampion, which also has a fleshy tap-root. Believing the ramp to possess the revitalizing power of a spring tonic, the mountain folks looked forward to the return of the ramp after a winter of eating mostly dried foods. The ramp's flavor, though sweet with a hint of garlic, is accompanied by a potent odor so objectionable school children with "ramp odor" were known to have been excused from school for a few days.

The first Festival attracted a crowd of between 5,000 and 6,000, including the Tennessee governor. Although the festival differs from year to year, there have been common threads: bountiful food, music, dancing, politicians, and a young woman who is crowned "Maid of Ramps." In 1955, the Festival was attended by ex-President Harry Truman. In 1959, at the sixth annual Ramp Festival, attendance approached a never-again-topped 30,000 due to the featured guest, "Tennessee Ernie Ford," a popular television celebrity, and native of nearby Bristol. Other festivals have featured entertainment notables such as Eddie Arnold, Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, songstress Dorothy Collins of "Hit Parade" fame, Minnie Pearl, Brenda Lee, and Dinah Shore. Current festivals showcase musicians performing the area's heritage music: country and bluegrass. But two factors remain unchanged: the celebration of the region and its culture, and the return of spring and the adulation of the ramp.

Project materials include a detailed report: "The Festival of the Ramps, 1954 - 1999," a 1954 proclamation of "Ramp-Eating Day in Tennessee" by Tennessee Governor Clement, extensive newspaper coverage from various years of the annual event, photographs, two videotapes: "Ramp Festival 2000" and "Dedication of the Great Smokey Mountain National Park", a drama entitled On Cosby with accompanying photographs, programs, and newspaper coverage.

Originally submitted by: William L. Jenkins, Representative, (1st District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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