Nantucket Daffodil Festival | One Million Daffodils
And of course, there’s Eric McKechnie, who said he’s been wearing his daffodil headpiece here for 15 years. The husband of the woman who’d been taking pictures of him finally asked, “Is that thing comfortable?”McKechnie didn’t pause. “No,” he said.
Daffodil Weekend was the brainchild of the late Jean MacAusland, a Nantucket summer resident and the former publisher of Gourmet magazine, who in 1974 landed on the idea of organizing an American Daffodil Society–sponsored flower show on the island. Her vision was wrapped around the ambitious plan to also plant one million daffodil bulbs throughout the island.
Both goals quickly came to fruition, and in 1978 the event spawned the antique-car parade. A few years later, Daffy Weekend was integrated into the lifeblood of the Nantucket community and became an anchor of the still-emerging shoulder season. Today, some 9,000 people descend on the island each year for the event, pumping important dollars into its restaurants, stores, and hotels.
My first inkling into just how popular the festival has become came three weeks before I actually arrived, when I tried to book my car for the Friday before the event on the ferry from Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Every boat was booked for vehicle passage and had been for several weeks. Those in the know either traveled on Thursday, I learned, or made reservations months in advance. Traveling with my wife and our 2-year-old son, I secured passenger space on the ferry, then rented a car from Affordable Rentals, whose small office pretty much greets travelers getting off the boat. From there it was a short drive (or walk) to our home for the weekend, the White Elephant Hotel.
As a small part of a larger army of landing visitors, I found it curious to see the island suddenly absorb the onslaught of temporary residents. After four months of having the island to themselves, Nantucketers suddenly had to adjust to sharing the roads and once again waiting for walkers to cross the street. It was like driving in the first snow of the season. It required some relearning.
All of which raised the question: Just how much does the local community actually embrace Daffodil Weekend? Early Saturday morning, I set off to find out. It was pushing 6:00 when I walked into downtown, and as I neared the harbor, a buttery display lit up the sky as the sun rose over the harbor. Near the docks, two fishermen negotiated the day, while up on Main Street a lone policeman manned the barricades that had been erected for the morning’s parades.
Just near the harbor, four men, all in their sixties, milled about, clutching cups of coffee and throwing out the occasional laugh. “We meet up every morning and try and solve the world’s problems,” joked Wayne Viera, a native islander, who, like the others, calls Nantucket home. I figured that if there was any group that packed some resistance over the festival, this was it. Not so.
“We love it,” Viera responded, cutting me off before I could even finish my question. “We embrace the festival. It’s great for the island, great for business. You just feel Nantucket waking up. We see the boats coming, and everyone says”—and here he let the words roll out slowly, in a deep voice—“‘They’re heeeere …’ But it’s not an us-versus-them thing. They’re our bread and butter.”
Bill Andrews, the quietest member of the group, then piped up. “I suppose you get some six-toes who don’t like it,” he said.