The story I’m about to share is true. Although, you’d be hard-pressed to verify it. You see, the local media in Princeville, Indiana, kept what happened that day secret. The story took place in 1972 when the primary news outlet for the small town was the local newspaper. The Princeville Ledger didn’t report the incidents on Easter Sunday, 1972. Thirty miles away, the three network television stations out of Evansville never heard the story, partially due to Princeville’s population of 6,000 keeping it to themselves. The townsfolk were embarrassed. They had egg on their faces.
Easter 1972 was April 2nd. For 27 years, Princeville had held an Easter egg festival on Easter. The largest employer in the county, Daisy Field Eggs, supported the event. They were the lead sponsor. Daisy Field Eggs not only donated funds to promote the festival, but it also gave eggs. Thousands of them.
Princeville proclaimed the festival to be the largest egg hunt in North America. The Saturday before Easter, Daisy Field Eggs delivered the eggs to the festival committee headquarters at the local high school. The team of volunteers would boil and color the eggs, hundreds at a time, as other volunteers carried cartons of colored eggs to their pickup trucks, VW’s, and Jeeps so they could “hide” the eggs all around Princeville.
You could say they hid them in plain sight. Eggs were looped with strings and tied to the maple trees that lined downtown. They placed eggs on benches, windowsills, and business entryways. Wherever there was a place for an egg, an egg was placed. 1972 was the first year that Bob “Little Bucky” Kingery was in charge. His father, Bob “Big Buck” Kingery, had spearheaded the event for the last 12 years. Big Buck needed a break, and Little Bucky was ready. It was an honor to keep it in the family.
Dad and son had starred on the Princeville Panthers basketball squad. Little Bucky led his team to their first sectional title in more than ten years and only lost on a last-minute bucket in the regional finals. Big Buck walked on at the University of Evansville and won a scholarship. Little Bucky didn’t go to college. He married his high school sweetheart Roseanne. Little Bucky’s marriage proposal was, “You’re what!?” They had three kids, two girls, one boy.
Little Bucky wouldn’t have to manage much because most of the volunteers had been doing this for years. They knew what they were doing. Daisy Field Eggs would deliver the eggs in the morning. Five large pots were borrowed from the school cafeteria, filled with water, and food coloring. There were red, green, blue, yellow, and orange pots. The eggs were hard-boiled and colored at the same time.
By noon, the volunteers who would hide the eggs began arriving. No egg was supposed to be hidden before 5 pm. However, many of the volunteers broke policy so they could secure prime egg hiding locations. It was up to the volunteers to bring supplies to hang or display the eggs. Many created little pouches made of string to hang the eggs from tree branches, bushes, and light poles. Others had rolls of duct tape they’d fold over to use as double-sided tape, and a few used Velcro. How the eggs were secured was up to the individual volunteers. On the morning of Saturday, April 1st, everything was in place. The volunteers were at their stations; Daisy Field Eggs carted in the Eggs. Everything was going as planned … until it wasn’t.
The downfall began when the winds came, followed by rain and then thunder. Suddenly, without warning, the lights went out. There was still plenty of daylight coming through the cafeteria windows to see what they were doing, but there was a bigger problem. The stoves were electric. The team had filled the pots with water. Burners had been turned on, but only for a few minutes. The water was warm. It wasn’t hot enough to boil eggs.
Little Bucky called Big Buck, who called his friend Charlie who worked at Rural Power and had been the point guard on Big Bucks team. Big Buck called Little Bucky back with the bad news. Two trees had fallen on the main power line that fed the high school. The power would be out for at least 12 hours — probably longer.
Little Bucky paced back and forth. He scratched his chin and paced some more. He looked at the ceiling, waiting for a sign. Suddenly, he stopped and grabbed a dozen eggs and gently lowered them into the red dye pot. He waited and watched the eggs for five minutes, then scooped them onto the countertop. They were red! He gathered the volunteers.
“I’m not letting anything get in the way of Princeville’s Easter egg festival — are you with me!?” The group of volunteers mostly looked at their feet and unenthusiastically mumbled, “Okay, I guess, or if you say so.”
“So, here’s the plan. See these red eggs? They aren’t hard-boiled. I put them in the pot for five minutes, and they came out bright red! We can do this. Let’s go for the win! Help me put the eggs in the pots.”
The team got to work, and although there were a few mishaps, overall, it worked. Little Bucky cautioned everyone to be careful when removing the eggs from the pots. They couldn’t be tossed around like hard-boiled eggs.
The next step was to explain the situation to the egg hiders. The school had a fancy Xerox copier so, Bucky wrote out a list of do’s and don’ts for handling unboiled eggs, which he copied and gave to each hider. He was sure it would work.
On Easter Sunday, everything was going smoothly. The event didn’t begin until after church. Most vendors began setting up at 10 or 11 am. There were crafts, foods, beverages, and booths for local auxiliaries of the Legion, VFW, Eagles, and Moose. The school had a booth sharing images from the chess club, marching band, debate team, drama club, cheerleaders, basketball team, and more.
By 2:00, it looked like the previous day’s storms had passed. It was gray, but that was normal in this part of Indiana.
People packed downtown Princeville. If any of the 6,000 residents had stayed home, you wouldn’t know it. Folks were eating corn dogs, chicken wings, and elephant ears. Children were running around, searching for eggs as their parents carefully placed them in plastic bags. Little Bucky and his team had posted and passed out flyers about the uncooked eggs. The high school Principal, Mr. Warner, was given a bullhorn, and he explained the situation. It was going well. It was going to work…until it didn’t.
The winds picked up, slowly at first, then the clouds darkened, and it began to sprinkle. Thunder clapped in the distance. People looked to the skies and started moving towards cover, but it was too late. A sudden gust of wind barreled down Main street picking up speed, and eggs, as it coursed down the street.
Eggs flew everywhere, up, down, and sideways, and they hit everything. Flying eggshell shrapnel struck children. Little Billy Higgins got a piece of shell in his right eye. Women screamed as eggs plastered their clothes, shoes, and hair. Men tried to protect their wives and children but to no avail.
While attempting to calm the crowd and bring order to the chaos, Sheriff Martin was hit in his privates by a grade A large yellow egg. It took him to his knees. Eggs cracked the front window at Mary’s thrift shop.
Eggs covered everything. Johnny Long had left the top down on his 1970 mustang convertible. Egg yolks, whites, and shells covered Princeville like a Jackson Pollock painting. It was a disaster.
No one had secured the School booth tent. The wind tore it loose, picked it up, and rolled it down Main St — a moving target for flying eggs. Egg-covered photos of teams and cheerleaders followed it.
Monday evening, April 3rd Mayor Armstrong held a town meeting. Addressing the gathering, he explained what the town was going to do to clean up the disaster. He let them know that he had personally contacted Ron Hedges, the insurance agent for most of the townspeople. Ron was setting up a disaster claims unit. And then the mayor made my telling of this tale possible. He asked the townspeople to keep the egg-saster a secret. Nobody on the outside needed to know.
Three months after the failed festival, insurance companies were still dealing with the damage. Estimates for property damage, automobile repair, and personal injury totaled more than $50,000 in claims. But the news of the egg-saster went no further.
The next year the festival went off like clockwork. Little Bucky and his team got the job done. But even today, on egg festival Saturday, everyone keeps checking the lights.