Cakewalk Games at Festivals

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, August 23, 1913:  Ruth and I went to a festival up at McEwensville this evening.

DSC04287The festival probably was held in the small park next to the McEwensville Community Hall.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

What fun! I love small town festivals. There’s so much excitement and energy—good friends, great food, fun exhibits, and fun games.

I bet that Grandma and her sister Ruth played the Cakewalk game.  It used to be a popular fund-raiser game at festivals, but I haven’t seen it in years.

People would donate homemade cakes to be used as game prizes.

The game is kind of like musical chairs. Numbered squares are laid out on a circular path. Music is played while the participants walk around the path. The music then stops, and a number is called out. The individual standing on the square with that number wins a cake.

Tickets are sold to participants. The number of squares in the path equals to the number of tickets sold. For example there might be 20 squares. The game is run multiple times until all the cakes are gone—with 20 people participating in each game.

Layered_cake_with_cream

Source: Wikimedia Commons

An aside–when I was preparing this post I googled the term cakewalk  and was surprised to discover that the game that I remember isn’t what the word generally means.  Cakewalk had it originals on slave  plantations in the South in the 1800s. According to The Free Dictionary cakewalk is “A 19th-century public entertainment among African Americans in which walkers performing the most accomplished or amusing steps won cakes as prizes.”

16 Responses

  1. I keep reading it as catwalk and at the end of your article ” in which walkers performing the most accomplished or amusing steps” it does have semblance to catwalk! Some runway models walk funny and some polished. lol…

  2. That’s cool about the origins of cakewalk!

  3. I remember going to a cakewalk about thirty years ago. It was an old-time fund raiser :-)

  4. The elementary school in my town has a festival for the kids and families every year and there is always a cakewalk just like the one you described! The tradition has not disappeared! :)

  5. I’ve heard the expression cake walk but have never known its origins. People here say, it was easy like a cake walk in the same way they might say i can do that with my hands tied behind my back…

  6. I love small town festivals, too, and my town if FULL of them. Our church just had a cakewalk at our 24th of July celebration, honoring the Pioneers. I don’t know why I knew the original definition (I do read a lot of reference materials) but I’ve always thought it’s evolution to a staple of community socials was a good example of European Americans mimicking African American culture and never being able to get it quite right — or quite as fun!

  7. I remember going to a cakewalk when I was a kid and recently I saw one of the local churches advertising a cakewalk as part of a summer festival. I am glad they are coming back. Interesting history for the word :) Annie

  8. You always post such interesting tidbits of history & facts! I’m glad Helena got to go to a festival! Just the other day she wrote, “nothing much happening”… it’s nice to know that wasn’t always the case :)

  9. I participated in a cakewalk about twenty years ago, won a chocolate cake with a vanilla cream frosting. I didn’t know the original definition, interesting.

  10. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard cakewalk mentioned. I remember activity similar to what you described.

  11. Mariposa County Fair in CA still does the cakewalk. Fun!

  12. Interesting to learn both meanings for cakewalk.

  13. Ah – cakewalks! I remember those. Now we just have bake sales, which takes all the fun out of it. People really did have a much better idea about how to enjoy themselves back then. They didn’t have to have powerful graphics and sound effects.

  14. Sounds like fun. We used to have a pie sale at the lake to raise money for the community league. You brought two. One to sell and one to serve…….Yum. I always liked my friend Karens, Chocolate Cream Pie. Or my other neighbours pumpkin. I never knew that about the ‘Cakewalk’….funny how some of these words carry on.

  15. I remember cakewalks as you describe. Haven’t heard of one in YEARS!

  16. Ya learn somethin’ new everyday.

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