A mystery photograph was discovered in the depths of the local history collection at Traverse Area District Library. The image was of a young woman, finely arrayed in a crown and cape, the picture of regal. Our only clues: the photographer’s studio (E.N. Moblo of Traverse City,) and a name written in white (Edna Regina).
Who is she, and why the get-up? Researcher Julie Schopieray had to know. Fortunately, the digitized newspapers collection revealed further clues. In the November 4, 1900 edition of The Morning Record (a predecessor newspaper to the Traverse City Record-Eagle), a brief article announced to the public that “Photographer Moblo has completed an elegant photograph, 11×14, of Miss Edna Wilhelm, arrayed in the beautiful costume she wore as queen of the Carnival on the night of the third of July.”
This revelation blew the case open. Traverse City did indeed host a three-day carnival on July 3-5, 1900. It must have been a well-anticipated event, as both the steam ships and the trains ran special routes for the occasion. The Silver Brothers’ New Tent Novelty Show and Great Trained Animal Exhibition traveled north to provide entertainment to the masses. All manner of street and Caledonian games were played throughout the city, and at least two parades and “the most brilliant display of Fireworks ever seen in Northern Michigan” were sure signs that the City was out to have a good time.
Edna was crowned Queen of the Carnival at a grand reception in the City Opera House, featuring a 14-piece orchestra. From there, she and her suite rode in the “illuminated parade” through town. The parade organizers promised “some surprises… never before seen in this part of the state.” The evening culminated in a reception and ball at the City Opera House. On the 5th, Queen Edna reigned over the Traverse City Driving Park’s horse racing events from her “position of state in the grand stand.” The newspaper announced that her reign “was short but brilliant and triumphant.”
Perhaps even more thrilling than the Carnival itself was the race for the Queenship, an elected position. Such was the furor of the election, that votes were announced every half an hour, starting in the early evening and not finishing until 10 o’clock that night. Edna won by a large margin, receiving 3,423 votes. After her came Miss Minnie Rattenbury, with only 1,216 votes to her cause. Each dollar donated to offset the cost of the Carnival equaled one vote. One “anonymous” gentleman (although the newspaper identified him, based on the thickness of his voting envelope) placed $253 in Edna’s tally box, no small sum in 1900!
How was the news received? According to The Morning Record, “As soon as the result was announced there was a cheer and immediately there was a rush for the door. The band began a march and a line was formed in the street. In a few moments the crowd started for the residence of Miss Wilhelm where that lady was cordially congratulated upon the result of the contest and a serenade was given.” We can only imagine the glow on Edna’s cheeks upon seeing the throngs serenading her on her own doorstep!
The Carnival Committee was bound to prepare a fine celebration, paying attention to all the details, not the least of which was Queen Edna’s apparel. The “regal robes and crown” were acquired at once, and the Committee was quoted on the matter, stating “it is a foregone conclusion that the magnificence of her apparel will excel anything ever seen in this city.” By the photograph that remains, we agree with the Committee: fine attire for a fine lady.
Edna was a woman with moxie, it seems. In addition to performing her duties as queen admirably, she was the chief operator for Citizens Telephone, and she once saved the books of that business from going up in flames in a 1901 fire. She was the daughter of Frank and Anna Wilhelm, and sister to Gilbert and Blanche Violet.