Some Shrimp Festival History
Today the Fort Myers Beach Shrimp Festival raises tens of thousands of dollars for charities like providing eye glasses, cataract and other surgeries for our areas residents in need, the Florida Lions Eyebank, Baskin Palmer Eye Institute, Southeast Guide Dogs, largeprint books for the local library, Little League and our WE SERVE Beach Lions Scholarship Fund. But How did all this Beach Tradition and Fun Began?
The first Shrimp Festival was held in 1959. Prior to that an event called "Beach Day" was held on the Sunday after the Edison Festival of Light Parade in Fort Myers in mid-February. St Raphael’s Episcopal Church sponsored the Blessing of the Shrimp Fleet which was held on the Beach Pier, and sold Shrimp Rolls in the County Park on the Beach.
Also the Beach Improvement Association held a Beauty Contest in the Park. The idea of the Shrimp Festival was to provide the Beach with its own celebration, and to build on Beach Day.
Initially it was to be held on the weekend nearest the full moon after the Edison Festival, but not closer than two weeks after it, a confusing sounding schedule. But it was scheduled that way because the Beach Shrimping fleet was in port around the full moon as shrimping is poor during full moons while the port is deeper to accommodate boat loads of that beautiful pink treasure. Our local shrimp are pink.
The first year was a weekend only event. The Fort Myers Beach Lions Club sponsored a parade from the Beach School to the County Park, the same parade route it takes to this day, and sold Bar-B-Que chicken dinners in the Park. Lions members cannot remember when one the members suggested that if it was to be a Shrimp Festival, Lions should cook shrimp rather than chicken.
Long time island resident, Lion Pete McCagg says; "We cut lots of buttonwood logs on Friday, dug a pit and started the fire about five o’clock in the morning Saturday to boil the shrimp. This was the primary fundraiser, though we also held a raffle. For the first few years we raffled a television set and later a small boat, motor, and trailer. One year we got very daring and raffled an automobile."
In the years of 1962 through 1970 Lions raised money by sponsoring a Gopher Turtle Derby. This had been a project of the Fort Myers Lions Club as part of the Edison Festival for several years. They paid the Seminole Indians 25 cents each for about 50 gophers, and Lions agreed to pay the Fort Myers Club 50 cents and save the gophers for the Shrimp Festival. Lions resold the turtles to Beach businesses and/or individuals the gophers for $5.00. They in turn painted the shell with watercolor paints and strap lightweight decorations on their backs as advertisement. Gophers in heats of 6 to 8 were put in an inner circle, and the first to reach an outer circle won. When the Festival was over all gophers got to be released back into the wild thus saving the Turtles and making many folks needing glasses or eye operations very happy.
It was about this time also that the Lions decided that this had really reached the point that it should be a Chamber of Commerce project. After one year the Chamber decided that it was too much work, and the Lions Club we agreed to take it back. Local Fort Myers Beach Lions have sponsored the Shrimp Festival every year since with pride of knowing the people who make their vacations plans around the Festival dates and the residents who live and love the Festival as part of their local heritage.
In 1993 a small Expo was added. Since then it has grown and grown to feature a large variety of crafts and great food tens of thousands love! This historic Shrimp Festival still features the islands largest parade, festival Queen contest, and new since 2015 The Ft. Myers Beach Shrimp Eating Championship!
See you at the Festival!
For more Information www.BeachShrimpFestival.com