Masque of the Yellow Moon
DescriptionThe Masque of the Yellow Moon was a Phoenix tradition to rival any Hollywood event. For years, Phoenix Union High School held this annual event, a procession of marching bands and students dressed in grand costumes under a yellow Phoenix moon. Past queens of the Masque, along with other participants, share their photos and memories, recalling a nostalgic period of Arizona's history.
In the spring of 1995, valley high school students paid tribute to a Phoenix tradition called the Masque of the Yellow Moon. For all of the young performers, it was an exciting, new experience. But for most of the people who bought tickets, this was a nostalgic trip down memory lane.
Oh, the Masque of the Yellow Moon now it's past it was gone too soon...
Billie Jane Baguley:
Oh, I remember it was very, very exciting. It was just exciting. You know, it was the highlight of the school years, you might say. Might have even been one of the highlights of early Phoenix.
Every spring for nearly 30 years, the big event in Phoenix was the Masque of the Yellow Moon. You might say it was the super bowl halftime show of its day. People from all over the state would pour into Phoenix union high school's Montgomery Stadium to witness what may best be described as an outdoor extravaganza.
Billie Jane Baguley:
It was just the thing the community always went to see. But of course, we didn't have much other entertainment. Whatever entertainment we had, we made ourselves in those days. We didn't have television.
The Masque of the Yellow Moon gets its unusual name from an Indian legend about the yellow moon of springtime. It first made headlines in 1926 when Phoenix had fewer than 50,000 people. By the mid-1930s, critics were calling it one of the most outstanding theatrical events in America, comparing it to New Orleans' Mardi Gras and Pasadena's Tournament of Roses.
I believe that it was capacity crowd every year. It was something that Phoenix looked forward to. I think they've even touted it as being the pride of Phoenix, which received national acclaim in Readers' Digest and Life Magazine. It was something that everybody truly looked forward to, and I would say it was an event that brought Phoenix together.
The Masque was an unbelievably popular community event, but what's more amazing is that it was produced almost entirely by students from Phoenix Union High School.
T ed Edmundson:
The speech department, the Drama department, the girls' Athletic department, the Military R.O.T.C. at that time all had their own definite spots in the show, and they would rehearse, oh, for many, many weeks.
Eventually, five Phoenix high schools and Phoenix College would participate. Carver High, the all-black high school, was finally invited to join the show in 1949.
Miss Betty Fairfax, our P.E. teacher, man, I mean, she would practice us in the morning, in the evening. I mean, when we left the field out there, we were tired. But we had to get it. We had to, and we did, and we felt so proud of ourselves. The Masque of the Yellow Moon, yes.
Billie Jane Baguley:
The home-economics classes out the costumes according to our measurements and gave them to us in cut-out pieces with instructions how to put them together. Sometimes I wouldn't doubt some of the girls themselves made them, but in my case, my mother made them. This was the costume that was used in the Masque the second year I was in high school, sophomore year. That would have been the spring of '35, and this is the time I was an Indian, had a shield as well, but that disintegrated a long time ago.
Cordelia Perkins is the person who made the Masque Of the Yellow Moon an unbelievably spectacular event. As its director for 21 years, she designed both the costumes and the enormous sets that stretched across the stage. She also decided what the theme of the Masque would be. It was different each year but usually related to the history and heritage of the Southwest. That was the case in 1936 when the masque was entitled "Thunder Bird.” Walter Garbarino had a leading role that year.
I don't recall all the other characters, but I was picked to play an Indian called Shooting Star. You go out there and you find your place on this stage in the dark, and then all the lights come on and the Masque of the Yellow Moon starts and to see all of these people out there, and you know that that stadium is just full of people, just crammed full, 10,000 to 12,000 people if they could get them all in. It's something that you just don't realize how it would affect you.
The highlight of every masque came halfway through the performance when the Queen was escorted to her Throne.
I remember the crowning well.
Katherine Cronin-Kunze was Queen of the Masque in 1927. Felt it was a great honor, and I don't think I ever really got used to the fact that I was there and it was I who was being crowned, and it was wonderful.
You know, it was almost that you just could hardly believe it was happening. It was just like -- Queen for a day, and you just thought, "how fortunate and how lucky I am to be doing this."
For three decades, The Masque of the Yellow Moon had been a Phoenix tradition interrupted only briefly during the war, but in 1955, the curtain came down for the very last time. Its demise is partially due to the retirement of Cordelia Perkins and a growing student population that made it too expensive and time-consuming to produce. Besides, Phoenix was well on its way from small town to big city, and like many of its traditions, The Masque of the Yellow Moon was simply lost amid the change.