IT STARTED – how else? as a protest.
The coronation has slimed its way in and out of official status as a Eugene Celebration event but is currently, fiercely independent of any organization.
2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the Slug Queen as a Eugene institution. Long may she ‘rain’ as Eugene’s unofficial ambassador and most beloved symbol of our unique urban identity.
It is local festival royalty like no other. Typically, college bound beauties win such crowns – even those with such dubious titles as “Miss Garlic”, “Miss Rutabaga”, or the “Rodeo Queen”.” But sweet, young things have no special shine when it comes to slime. In fact,to date, five Slug Queens have been men–from a drag queen to a Catholic father of seven. Female winners have included an elementary school librarian, a Psychotherapist and an accordion player, a Harvard graduate, a comedianne, and the Alpha Mom.
Each new Slug Queen is voted in by the growing ranks of Old Queens. (Yes, that’s the preferred title. Make the mistake of calling them former queens and they’re wont to lecture, “Once a Queen, always a Queen!’)
Being the youngest, fairest or slimmest in the land is no advantage. Rather, the edge goes to those who can step into the slimelight “with a lot of wisdom and a good understanding of Eugene politics already under their belts,” says Queen D’Arcy (actor/singer Darcy DuRuz).
Officially, Slug Queens are selected on the basis of talent, costume and ability to ad lib witty answers to inane questions (a parody of the wildly uneven “interview” segment of many beauty pageants), but it doesn’t hurt to attempt to secure the title with a good old fashioned palm buttering. That’s right, the Old Queen accept bribes. Such persuasion is par for the course – chocolate for the judges being a standard ploy. The most outrageous bribe so far? Perhaps the building of this very website! (Queen Slugtoinette won for her being a tech savvy slug).
Though the winner’s duties include appearing at the opening reception of the Mayor’s Art Show, opening the Eugene Celebration Parade by riding in the magical mid-way float, throwing a fund raising ball for the charity closest to her heart, making an appearance at the Jell-O Art Show on the Saturday closest to April Fool’s Day (Maude Kerns Art Center), and presiding over next year’s coronation, the Slug Queen is not officially sanctioned by the Eugene Celebration. They prefer to stay independant and honor their tradition of NO RULES!!
Guerilla status suits the Queens.
“It’s fabulous because we’re still free, free-spirited and don’t answer to anyone,” said 1997 Queen Bagonda, whose alter ego Kevin Henry worked for a local disability rights group. “If we became an official event, we’d have to come under their control. You just don’t control a queen!”
Such independence is consistent with the Slug Queen’s origins:
The year was 1983. More than 25,000 people had converged downtown for a public celebration of the new Hult Center in 1982, and city officials were trying to launch an annual festival that would similarly bring the community together. The Eugene City Council decided to revive an old celebration, popular in the first part of the century, called the “Trail to Rail Celebration”…but the best name they could muster was the mundane sounding “Eugene Celebration”.
In a tongue-in-cheek protest over the blandness of the name, local popular cartoonist, Paul Ollswang, suggested that the festivities instead be called the more colorful “Slugfest”. “Some of us thought it was important not to take ourselves too seriously as a city,” then-City Councilor Cynthia Wooten recounted recently. “We wanted to call this event the Eugene Slugfest in honor of Eugene’s most indigenous fauna. But a majority of city leaders opted for the more generic but less slimy “Eugene Celebration.”
By way of lighthearted protest, Wooten and friends seized the “Slugfest” idea and held a unisex Slug Queen Pageant, in her own garden that spoofed all beauty pageants. Ollswang developed the acronym SLUG: Society for the Legitimization of the Ubiquitous Gastropod. Together they created a gastropodous entry for the very first Eugene Celebration parade: a giant, Chinese dragon-style slug accompanied by the first appointed Slug Queen- former Eugene bicycle shop owner Bruce Gordon. Celeste LeBlanc designed the 150-foot fabric slug, and friends helped sew it in the Whiteaker Community School Gymnasium. Approximately 35 pairs of human feet were needed to propel the massive slug, which launched the original free wheeling spirit of the Eugene Celebration. Thereafter, the celebration and the SLUG Queen seemed permanently “enslimed” and has remained close since the former Special Events Coordinator for the Celebration, Carol Brewster, took a closer role in assisting with SLUG Queen coronation events under the name Queen Mother.
Thus began the Society for the Legitimization of the Ubiquitous Gastropod.
After two years of insider selections for the office of SLUG Queen, the now popular competition was opened to the general public, complete with rules admonishing contestants to “be tastefully tacky, but not gross or disgusting.” Gaudy is good. “Slime green” is a favorite color. Pretty much anything with a PG rating goes—the wilder, bigger, tackier, sluggier—the better. Slug Queens are widely admired for their diligent philanthropic work as much as their campy counter culture appeal. Unlike other beauty pageant queens, a SLUG Queens status in the community and among other queens grows as she ages and she gains the rank of “Old Queen”, or “Very Old Queen” or the highest ranked “Very, Very Old Queen”, thus allowing them to campaign with clout for their charities long after their yearlong reign. Over the years, queens have played the “Vanna White” role at the HIV Alliance auction; raised funds for everything from Meals on Wheels to the Red Cross to a Tijuana AIDS hospice; lured customers to high school car washes; and visited schools during TV Turn-Off week. Current favorite causes are the local non-profits Women’s Space, Food for Lane County, Greenhill Animal Shelter, The Lane Arts Council, Birth to Three and WAG (Animal spay and neuter Clinic).
Slug Queens raised more than $5,000 for the new Eugene Public Library in a lighthearted battle with The Comic News for naming rights to the restrooms. The gastropods prevailed and now the bathrooms are officially called “Slug Queen Throne Rooms”.
With SLUG Queens moving into the next quarter century as an important Eugene fixture, there is currently a ground swell to honor her, and the rebellious nature of the citizenry of Eugene, with a bronze SLUG Queen sculpture. The proposed home for the sculpture is the Rhododendron Garden in Hendricks’s Park—chosen for it’s already magical qualities, lush leafy setting, and relative security (some officials fear she may too tempting to thieves).
In an ironic repeat of the origins of the SLUG Queen, the proposed sculpture has meet with similar opposition from the fairly newly appointed City Arts Council, but the overwhelming majority of Eugene’s Citizens appear to support the idea. Most see the SLUG Queen as a whimsical but important element in making the City of Eugene a fun place to live and work and to attract tourism and interest from outside the state. She is a beacon in which all of Eugene can be proud along side the University of Oregon’s Mascot, the already legitimized ubiquitous Duck. Organizers of the sculpture movement have decided not to collect a lump sum donation for the project from one single corporate sponsor, but rather prove the public’s support by raising the money for construction $5 (or less) at a time from the citizens of Eugene—thus proving broad support for her installation in a public park or garden. Donations can be made via this website very soon.
Celebrity supporters of the SLUG Queen include US Senator Peter Defazio, who has been a parade participant and loyalist for years (he follows the Slug Queen’s float with a wheelbarrow “cleaning up the slime from Wahington DC”), famed Independent Film Director James Ivory (Howard’s End, Room with a View) who, as a UO alum and Klamath Falls native, is very interested in original creative ideas emanating from Eugene and Oregon, and Slug Queen Bananita’s Harvard classmate, Political satirist, Al Franken.
Portions of this article have been altered from the original by Karen McCowan The Register-Guard Please see the News and Events page for a link to the full original article.