The association between the Punahou Carnival and rain has a long history. And why not? The regularity with which this annual event has been anointed by sprinkles has become the stuff of legend. Yet, while rain has come to be an expected part of Carnival, downpours have not; especially downpours such as those which Honolulu experienced in 1976.
The official Honolulu Airport reading for the day was 2.68 inches of rain. Winds were 13 mph with gusts up to 28. Not exactly the kind of weather that calls out the crowds. The rain would continue throughout the weekend with 1.78 inches falling on Saturday and .91 on Sunday.
Like every class before it, ’77 had prepared long and hard for Carnival. Signs had been painted, carnival outfits sewn, and volunteers assembled to work. But hopes would be dashed as quickly as the rain fell. Riding the Ferris wheel in a driving rainstorm is not exactly one’s idea of fun.
To the parent chairman of the White Elephant’s Knick Knack booth, the rain was devastating. She described the impact as follows:
E.K. Fernandez should be requested to repair the very leaky tent or replace it. While it is admitted this was an unusually hard rain, it must also be recognized that at this time of year we frequently have rains and the tent had many holes–large and small–making our job that much more difficult. We pulled, tugged, lifted, shifted and hauled until we were thoroughly exhausted prior to carnival. And we still had much loss of merchandise due to water damage. In addition to the leaky tent we had much damage from water underfoot flowing though from mauka to makai direction. It is my suggestion that some sort of a dam be constructed at about the Diamond Head corner of the fruit booth in order to keep the water from flowing through in such large quantities. … This year drapes were a poor selling item because of … being quite wet.
(Editor’s Note: Ann Botticelli, Duncan McNichol and Valerie Van Brocklin were student chairs of this booth.)
Given the weather challenges, an unprecedented decision was made. Carnival would be cancelled for Friday. It would reopen for the full run on Saturday; an unprecedented Sunday run would be made in four two-hour shifts.
One can only imagine the impact of this last minute change. As described by the student chair of the hot dog and cold drink booth (a.k.a. “Young Frankenfurthers”):
Well–we Juniors had the unprecedented good (joke) luck of having our Carnival rained out. It was post-phoned until Saturday and Sunday. So, on Friday morning we watched the rain…and had several re-organizational meetings. Friday’s shifts would now be Sunday’s shifts (and only 2 hours long). Saturday would go on as usual. In case you’re interested, we had to call our Friday workers to see if they could work on Sunday, and check with the SBWC [Student Booth Work Committee] to make sure all was well.
So the call to reschedule went out: quite a feat in the days of land lines. Amazingly, despite the change of day and the conflict of the Hawaiian Open, volunteers showed up in droves. My mother, who chaired Diamond Head malasadas (my brother, Richard, was a ’77 graduate) that year told me that not one person of the dozens and dozens assigned to her booth declined her request to reschedule. Overall, no shows were few and largely relegated to the sick and those called off island.
So, as the saying goes, the show went on despite muddy thoroughfares (when queried, most attendees recalled dozens and dozens of slippers stuck in the omnipresent quagmire), gusty winds, and diminished crowds. The hot dog chairman offered this description of the adverse conditions:
On Saturday we preceded as we normally would have on Friday. We got the large canec sign, and some maintenance men nailed it to the booth. (Unfortunately it was blown back on to the roof–it was very windy–so on Sunday we just put it on the ground in front of the booth.)
Sales were affected. After all, as noted by the student chair of the shave ice booth [a.k.a. “Alexander Grocery (The Chinx Store)], “Who wants to buy shave ice in a rainstorm?”
The skills division was especially impacted. Ten E.K. Fernandez games had been added to the Carnival that year. Between the added competition and the weather, the division chairman reported that sales were down:
Saturday our business was brisk, but Sunday morning it was very slow. With four hours less business, four games less than in ’75 … the Skills division grossed $8,998.11 compared to $16,761.25 the previous year, which was down $2,000 in gross from 1974. We sold some of our left over prizes; however, this was not income but our overhead.
Despite the challenges, Carnival ’76 was notable for the number of firsts that it accumulated:
- First in the 29 years to have Friday’s opening day cancelled. (The Carnival debuted in 1932 and was cancelled during WWII.)
- First to reach a gross of $120,000 on opening day (Saturday, February 7).
- First to schedule a Carnival on Sunday (10 a.m.-6 p.m., February 8).
- First to run an abbreviated 20-hour event.
- First to gross about $8,250 per hour.
Overall, the event grossed $192,000, a sum that included pre-Carnival events, and was noted in the Spring 1976 Punahou Bulletin to be “a mere bagatelle” below 1975’s record setting event. The school’s business manger, Paul Wysard, reported the net to be $83,750.
The carnival was a demonstration of an indomitable Punahou spirit that the Punahou Bulletin wrote:
rose above the muck and the mire, torrents of rain, that took lightning and thunder in stride, accepted the elements and vagaries of capricious nature. Caught up in storm-enhanced camaraderie were students, parents, faculty, alumni–the thousands of workers on whose shoulders, and in whose hearts, Carnival success lies. Leadership, organization, and selfless service marked every aspect of the ’76 event.
Editor’s Note: In researching this post, I was amazed by the lack of information regarding this extraordinary circumstance. The following Friday’s Ka Punahou was an “April Fool’s” issue with spoof articles and no mention of the unique circumstances that week or thereafter. The Punahou Bulletin offered a two-page article that featured some of the pictures shown here but skirted the rescheduling issue. The ’76 Oahuan’s two-page Carnival spread showed only two “wet” pictures (individuals holding umbrellas) among the many standard Carnival photos of smiling students and Carnival attendees. The Honolulu Advertiser ignored the situation all together while the 2/7/1976 Honolulu Star-Bulletin carried a short and to the point four paragraph notice that was simply headlined: “Punahou Carnival Postponed”. Sifting through the dozens and dozens of student and parent booth reports revealed but the four above mentions of the weather’s impact. It was almost as if everyone hoped that this was an extraordinary circumstance, one never to be repeated. Perhaps that is so. And, with any luck, Carnival ’76 will retain the unique place it now holds in Punahou’s history.