ASHLAND – The first Stir-Up was held in 1935 as a way to provide a distraction as the county was plunged in the depths of the Depression. It started out as an autumn celebration that lasted two days.
The name Stir-Up was chosen not as a nod to horsemanship, but to signify action, as in “stir up the crowd.” Karl Russell of Ashland won the contest to name the festival.
“The Stir-Up suggests a celebration of festival quite out of the ordinary, one that signifies action,” The Ashland Gazette reported.
Nearly 10,000 people attended the first Stir-Up, spurred on by an inventive marketing campaign that included sending a 20-car caravan to surrounding towns to announce the event. The Stir-Up schedule included six parades, a medical exhibit, carnival rides, a guessing contest and a high school football game.
Stir-Up was held again in 1936, but was cancelled the following year due to the threat of polio. By the next year, however, the disease was under control in the area and Stir-Up was on again. Parades, entertainment, food, street dances and a carnival midway kept the crowds busy.
The U.S. involvement in World War II cancelled Stir-Up from 1942 to 1944. No plans were made for the event in 1945, but a week after Japan surrendered, Ashland rejoiced by bringing back Stir-Up with just a few weeks of feverish preparation.
In 1948, the addition of a key Stir-Up tradition was made to the schedule – the coronation of a king and queen. Dr. Oscar Ziegenbein, a local businessman well-known for his volunteer efforts in the community, was crowned the first king. The first queen, Shirley Raikes (Hemke), was chosen from the high school senior class, as was the custom for several years before the organizers decided to select the queen candidates from a list of local women known for their community service.