On July 24, 1931, approximately 10,000 people -- including Governor Roland Hartley (1864-1952) -- attend the Lewis County Farmers and Merchants Picnic at Alexander Park in Chehalis to see what is billed as the world's largest omelet cooked in the world's largest frying pan. A good time is had by all.
The Plan and a Pan
Three years earlier, Chehalis received nationwide attention when the townsfolk baked what was billed as the World's Largest Strawberry Shortcake. The 16-foot-high, 20-foot-long shortcake produced 4,000 slices of tasty delight at the annual Farmer's Picnic. Buoyed by the success of that event, and egged on by Seattle Times cameraman James Dwyer, the town looked for another noteworthy edible that would garner even more publicity in 1931.
The Great Depression was in full swing, and local farms and businesses needed all the help they could get. Because there were so many chicken farmers in Lewis County, Chehalis opted to cook something egg-related. Chehalis promoters first planned on boiling 10,000 eggs, but decided this wasn't interesting enough. They then settled on a 10,000-egg omelet, but what could they cook it in? It wasn't as if anyone had an eight-foot-wide pan lying around the house. So they had to have one specially made.
The job was given to the F. S. Lang Stove Works in Seattle, which was happy to oblige. The giant utensil, weighing nearly half a ton, was shipped to Chehalis by truck. Photos of the pan being readied for transport, with local Seattle women dancing a tango on it, were published in newspapers and magazines across the country.
Wakey, Wakey, Eggs and Bakey
On the morning of July 24, 1931, approximately 10,000 people showed up for the annual picnic in Alexander Park -- a record crowd for the summertime event. Festivities started at 11:30 a.m. with an egg-cracking contest. Nineteen women vied to see who could crack a caseload of 30 dozen eggs the fastest, without leaving any shells in the yolk. The winner, Mrs. Al Blair, accomplished the task in 12 minutes.
To ready the skillet for cooking, it needed to be greased. To accomplish this, Thora Yeager (1907-2006) attached a giant slab of bacon to each of her feet and skated around the pan. She maintained her balance by using one of the long wooden spatulas that would later be used to stir the eggs.
Yeager's performance was one of the most photographed events of the day. She smiled for numerous newspaper reporters, as well as for anyone who brought his or her own camera. Universal Studios and Fox Movietone News were also there to film the event for its newsreels.
The Queen of Egg Land
Her job now complete, Yeager was helped out of the pan, and the heat was raised on the 3,000-brick, open-air stove built to hold it. Attention now turned to the coronation of the queen of the "Principality of Egg Land." The honors went to Shirley Brown of Winlock, who was crowned by Governor Hartley. Attending Queen Shirley were Ruth Miller (representing "Climate"), Margaret Limmer (representing "People -- Patriotic, Intelligent, and Loyal"), Eleanor Sarvela (representing "Co-Operation"), and Alma Hansen (representing "Fertile Soil").
By the time the coronation was over, the pan was hot and it was time to start cooking. The work was performed by L. C. Otter, J. E. Lloyd, and Owen Warring, all chefs from the Northern Pacific Railroad. At one point Governor Hartley donned a chef's hat and joined in to help stir the mixture. Giant salt and pepper shakers were used to add flavor.
Although the plan was to use 10,000 eggs in the omelet, the pan only held about 7,200 eggs. No one seemed to mind, since the omelet was enormous. When cooking was completed, the crowd was alerted through the use of a new loudspeaker system that had been installed a week before. The thousands who got a helping of the record-breaking dish enjoyed their lunch.
After everyone had gotten their fill of omelet, as well as free coffee, it was time for picnic fun. No speeches were given that afternoon; the picnic promoters just wanted the crowds to either join in on the planned activities or cheer from the sidelines.
For the first time in the picnic's history, the Chehalis businessmen -- captained by former Washington State University athlete Clarence "Digger" Boone (1892-1972) -- won the tug-of-war contest over local farmers. But the farmers beat out the city folk in the plow polo contest, in which plow horses -- the clumsier the better -- were used to play the match. Broomsticks were used as polo clubs.
Other events included a pie-eating contest, a greased-pig contest, a husband-calling contest, a rolling-pin-throwing contest, swimming matches, and various races, including a fat man's race and a fat woman's race. One of the more entertaining highlights of the day was the release of the Sperry Flour Company's homing pigeons by Governor Hartley. The six birds circled the park before heading straight to their home in Tacoma. This event became a regular feature of the annual picnic.
An Even Bigger Pan
The giant omelet was a huge success. The Chehalis Chamber of Commerce claimed that the free publicity it got in publications resulted in 75,000 inches (approximately $15,000 worth) of advertising, and showcased Western Washington's poultry and egg production to the rest of the nation. Later that year, the pan went on display at the Puyallup Fair.
In 1940, Chehalis loaned its big frying pan to the coastal community of Long Beach, for that town's first annual Razor Clam Festival. The pan was used to cook an enormous fritter containing 200 pounds of clams dug up on local beaches. Cooks used garden hoes and shovels to maneuver the fritter during cooking.
The following year, Long Beach commissioned the forging of its own giant pan, which was two feet larger than the Chehalis pan. It was used until 1948, when it was put on display in downtown Long Beach, becoming one of the city's major tourist attractions.