Lots of pictures below, if you don't want to read...
The first Elks Sponsored Helldorado Days were held from April 25-28, 1935, sponsored by Elks Lodge #1468. One of the events was the “golden wedding” ceremony of Mr and Mrs Peter Pauff, who had been married for 63 years and had been residents of Las Vegas since 1905.
A Helldorado village was built at 6th and Fremont, where everyone wore costumes that represented pioneers, cowboys, or other old-time characters. On Friday, April 26 there was a parade which was led by Mayor E.W. Cragin, James Cashman, Rex Bell (a movie star from the 1930’s), and Maxie Rosenbloom…a former light heavy-weight champion. The parade went down Fremont Street, from the Union Pacific railroad depot to the Helldorado Village. During the parade, the newlyweds rode in a Death Valley stagecoach. No motorized vehicles were permitted in the parade, and that became the tradition for decades of future Helldorado parades.
It was estimated that 16,000 people attended the events of the first Helldorado Days. Over the years, the celebration grew to include 3 parades, a rodeo, and various contests…including a beauty contest and a beard-growing contest. The annual festivities lasted nearly two weeks! The money that was raised by the fun events was used by the Elks for various youth programs around Las Vegas. Helldorado was so popular that in 1946 (I think) Roy Rogers and Dale Evans starred in a movie that featured the Helldorado festivities. The movie, though, is named “Heldorado”…just one “L”. The word “Helldorado” didn’t make it past the Hollywood censors.
Times change, and Las Vegas became more sophisticated. The small-town type of fun that was experienced with parades and contests lost its appeal. The final traditional Helldorado celebration was held in 1998. In 1999 Helldorado was canceled because it was no longer profitable. In 2005, as part of Las Vegas’ Centennial Celebration, a scaled down version of Helldorado was brought back. Pretty much anyone who wanted to could walk in the parade…all they had to do was send in the application. My husband and I were in town and we attended the parade…it was way cool to be a part of the tradition. It was soooooo hot, though!! Apparently a LOT of people wanted to be a part of the tradition, because there were hundreds of parade marchers…and the parade took hours. One group that was marching was a bunch of Bassett hound owners. The poor pups had their tongues drooping almost as low as their ears! There was a somewhat shaded spot not too far from us and they had several bowls of cool water set out for the dogs, who happily lapped it up. It took some major coaxing to get the dogs “marching” again…in fact, I think one or two had to be carried back to the parade route! lol! Noticeably absent from the parade entrants were the big hotels and casinos.
We didn’t stay for the whole parade. After about two hours, we headed for Binion’s and cold drinks. But it was fun.
The Helldorado tradition was continued after 2005, or at least the parade continued. In 2010 we were in town again, for the parade. The CCA/CCGTCC had an entry in the 2010 parade, which was held in the evening. After dinner my husband and I walked over to the parade route. We knew it would be quite awhile before the club entry got to where we were standing. We decided to walk up the route, towards the beginning of the parade. Along the way we found our entry…Ralph Myers was driving his classic pick-up truck. Sheldon Smith was riding in the back of the truck; Jim Steffner and Tony Tricoli (I think?) were walking behind the truck, and all were passing out our club wooden nickels. We introduced ourselves, and Sheldon invited us to climb in…so we did!! So most of my 2010 pictures are from the perspective of being in the parade, watching the spectators!
The newspaper pictures are from the 1955 Golden Anniversary Edition of the Las Vegas Review Journal. Some of the other pictures may have been scanned from a couple of books or magazines. Other pictures we bought on ebay. Of course I took the pictures from the 2005 and 2010 parades.
The Desert Love Buggy was a fixture in the Helldorado Parades
Don't know what years these were from, and it's possible that the parades weren't Helldorado...back in the day, Las Vegas loved to have parades...