And then there was this giant cake…

Published 5:53 pm Monday, August 22, 2022

Again, I want to thank people for telling me how much they enjoy my column. Some people ask me how I find so much to write about. That question is easy to answer. I have so many memories from my childhood. I learned about so many stories that I would hear my family and neighbors talking about, especially some of them sitting on our front porch talking with my grandmother.  I spent a lot of my childhood on the porch, playing Jacks, Checkers or Old Maid card games with my sisters. My grandmother and her friends and neighbors loved talking about the current events of the day and especially the accounts of the olden days.

I loved those old stories but to be honest, some of them I thought people just made up.  There were stories about fish in the Pamlico River as big as dolphins and runaway elephants that escaped from the circus and hid in people’s cornfields. Then, there’s this one story, about the time there was a giant birthday cake, bigger as an automobile, with candles tall as a man, right smack dab in the middle of downtown.  If anyone said anything about a birthday cake, I was all ears. As a kid, a birthday cake was the epitome of good living to me, so I was all ears when my Uncle William told us about it. I thought he was joking until I heard the older folks talk about the giant birthday cake, big as an automobile, with candles tall as a man in the middle of downtown.

You can’t imagine my joy when I discovered this picture (thank you Librarian historian Stephen Ferrell) from the Past Perfect Archives of our fabulously wonderful George and Laura E. Brown Library’s website, History Room section.  And there it is!  Indeed, wonder of wonders, a giant birthday cake, big as an automobile, with candles as tall as a man.

Pictured is the large wooden round structure, covered with white draping, with tall slender poles and electric light bulbs secured to the top of the poles serving as candles.  The ‘ birthday cake’ was built in February of 1932 to commemorate the two hundred birthday President George Washington, our town’s namesake.

It was erected next door to the Beaufort County Courthouse and across the street from D. Pender’s Grocery Store.  I don’t know if you can see them but there are a few African American men standing in the background.   One of those men may have been William Cozzens, my uncle, who brought the story of the giant birthday cake to my family and neighborhood.  I have heard tons of stories, I put the research to them and that is how I share my stories. I am so grateful y’all enjoy them.

Leesa Jones is a Washington native, the co-founder and co-executive director of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum