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Tyler - Texas Rose Festival

Tyler - Texas Rose Festival


Somewhere between Disneyworld, Las Vegas, and a debutante ball, the Tyler Texas Rose festival is a 4-day long extravaganza of luncheons, cocktail parties, pre-parties, after parties, private parties and dinners, all culminating in a glittering pageant where 50 19-year-old girls parade across a stage in sequined costumes and are encouraged to feel, for this weekend at least, as if they are royalty. Each year, one of these girls is chosen Queen. It is both an honor and a financial burden for her family who will spend up to $150,000 over the course of the weekend.

Queen Sanford is tired and hot and she has been sitting here for three hours, but she continues to smile graciously at her adoring subjects who wait patiently in line for up to 20 minutes to have a moment with their queen. Giddy little girls in their Easter dresses stare longingly at her gown and bring her scraps of paper to autograph. Freshly scrubbed families gather around her to have their portrait snapped. Even strangers who have come here with their church or on a group outing want a photograph of themselves and the queen.

Everybody says the 75 degree dry Texas weather couldn’t be better for the annual Queen’s Tea of the Texas Rose Festival, but the Queen herself, a 19-year-old college girl named Lauren French Sanford, wishes it were just a tad cooler. She is sweating profusely in her turquoise satin coronation gown that is embroidered with thousands of crystal jewels, mirrors, sequins, gold bugle beads, diamonds, and pearls. Her 7-inch high, heavily jeweled crown of 22-karat gold weighs heavily on her head, and the 16-foot-long glittering train of peacock velvet trimmed with white faux mink is starting to feel a bit cumbersome. The whole ensemble weights about 75 pounds. It is decorated with the symbols of all the things she treasures: three deltas (her sorority), Texas A&M (her college) and two golf clubs (her favorite sport).

If you aren’t from east Texas, you have probably never heard of the Texas Rose Festival. And even if you are from the town of Tyler, where the festival has been held for the past 71 years, if you don’t have a lot of money or your family hasn’t been living in town for generations, you may only know that something called the Rose Festival exists. Possibly you drive your pickup to the edge of the parade route each year to get good seats for the boisterous two-hour parade with enough Duchesses and Ladies in Waiting and dancers and floats that even Walt Disney himself would be impressed. But if you are from Tyler, and your mother was in the festival, just like her mother before her, then the weekend of the Tyler Texas Rose Festival is probably the most important social weekend of the year.

“You invited your friends from New York?” says Mary Margaret Hoak who is dressed as Broadway in an Eliza Doolittle costume. “I would never invite anyone from New York. They would never understand.”

For full text, please contact writer Deborah Netburn

Texas Rose Festival in Tyler Texas. At the Queen's Tea: The Queen Lauren French Sanford and her escort Zachary Edward Lee Willens, posing with nuns. Behind Lauren her father Fagg Sanford III.
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