By Brad Dison
In the 1930s, the small village of Saline, Louisiana, had a population numbering around 600 people, mostly farmers and sawmill workers. Its main claim to fame was its watermelons. The sandy soil provided the best environment for growing watermelons. The Saline Truck Growers Association began holding a celebration in the village each July to coincide with the watermelon harvest. People from all over the region converged at Saline to join in the festivities. Some reports estimated 8,000 people attended Saline’s second Watermelon Festival. For a small village of only 600 people to have an influx of several thousand people must have been a sight to see.
In 1932, Saline’s mayor and vice president of the Saline Truck Growers Association H.E. Sudduth shipped the two largest melons of the season by rail to then presidential nominee Franklin Delano Roosevelt and vice-presidential nominee John Garner. The melons weighed in at 110 pounds and 90 pounds respectively. Local farmer Webby Driggers grew the prized 110-pound melon. A few weeks later, Mayor Sudduth received a letter which stated:
“I have been a long time in writing to thank you for the most delicious watermelon which you sent me some time ago. Will you please extend to the association my appreciation of their sending me this extraordinary fruit? We have all enjoyed it, and are regretful that it is gone. Please also thank Mr. Driggers, and extend to him my congratulations. Very sincerely yours, Franklin D. Roosevelt.”
All good things must come to an end. In July, 1933, Saline had a major incident which most people, even those who have lived in and around the small village all of their lives, have forgotten. Those who have not forgotten the event rarely speak of it. People arrived for the annual festival on foot, by wagon, by automobile, and by train. During the celebration, several conspirators pulled knifes at a predetermined time and slashed over 500 unsuspecting victims. Rather than running away, the crowd gathered closer. The conspirators slashed into the bodies of their victims and removed their insides. Let me remind you that this story is true and apologize for its gory nature. The wild crowd reached for the random bits and pieces of the poor victim’s insides and shoved whatever they could grab into their mouths. Men, women, and boys and girls of all ages ate the pieces of raw red meat, the heart being the most sought after.
Sheriff Henderson Jordan, mostly remembered as a member of the posse which two years later ended the crime spree of Bonnie and Clyde, compared the slashing affray to the murders credited to England’s Jack the Ripper. One eye witness told the sheriff, “It was just slash, slash, slash. There weren’t many out of the 500 that weren’t hurt.” By the next morning, no evidence of the murders could be found. The conspirators disposed of the what remained of the victims’ bodies in an undisclosed location. Sheriff Jordan and his deputies spoke with several eye witnesses and questioned the conspirators but made no arrests.
Although watermelons have remained a staple crop from the area around the small village of Saline, the 1933 watermelon festival was the last of its kind held for fifty years. Five decades later, after many of the citizens who were present at the slashing had died, citizens of Saline revived the watermelon festival with moderate success. Without most of them knowing it, festival goers celebrate each year the slashing that occurred in the small village on that hot July day in 1933. If you visit the village during the festival, you will see all sorts of depictions of the slashing victims including signs, t-shirts, face paintings, and other paraphernalia. The slashing victims were watermelons.
The Shreveport Journal, July 29, 1932, p.14.
The Shreveport Times, July 29, 1932, p.2.
The Shreveport Journal, August 19, 1932, p.3.
The Shreveport Times, July 4, 1933, p.4.
PHOTO: 1933 Saline Watermelon Festival