OregonScape: Spring 2022

Issue 123:1

The Newport Crab Festival first took place in 1938 and was celebrated annually until the early 1950s. Events varied year to year and included parades, motorcycle stunts, and water acrobats. The highlight each year, however, was the distribution of free, freshly opened crab to thousands of visitors.

This photograph promoted the 1951 festival, where organizers anticipated giving away about 12,000 crabs. This amount was on par with previous years; the Oregon Journal noted that in 1939, it took 50 workers to crack 1,016 dozen crabs, with an estimated crowd of up to 30,000 people. The 1951 festival also included a number of events honoring American troops. In addition to parades and ceremonies, thirty-eight cases of fresh Newport crab were loaded on a C-47 transport plane bound for Korea as thanks to the troops fighting on the front lines in the Korean War.

Ackroyd Photography Inc. created this photograph, dated May 13, 1951, for the Oregon Journal. This type of humorous “trick” image was likely a successful way to promote the festival to crab-hungry Portland audiences. And while one might hope the crabs were that large in real life, it was actually a manipulation done in the printing process. In the darkroom, the photographer would print two negatives over multiple exposures, masking out certain areas in one and then the other. This gave the impression of a single exposure — and a very large crab.

The last mention of the Newport Crab Festival in both the Oregonian and the Oregon Journal was in 1951. The Newport Seafood & Wine Festival eventually picked up where the Crab Festival left off (minus the free crab). Starting in 1977, it is the largest festival in Newport, and while the 2022 festival has been cancelled due to COVID-19, the organizers hope to return in future years.

In this image, Soralie Persson, a participant in the 1951 Newport Crab Festival’s events, stands behind what appears to be a giant crab. The photographer created this illusion on behalf of the Oregon Journal, likely with the hope of attracting hungry crowds from Portland. The image is held in OHS’s research library, Org. Lot 1027, b188, f5.

— Matthew Cowan, OHS Moving Images and Photography Archivist