In many rural communities, certain events bring to mind certain seasons, and familiar routines and traditions fill different parts of the calendar, whether it is graduation in the spring, local fairs in the summer or community Christmas celebrations.
In Sikeston, located in southeast Missouri, fall brings the familiar cotton harvest, with the bright white bolls in fields lining the roads.
It also brings the American Legion Cotton Carnival, an annual celebration of the community and its agricultural heritage. The event features food, rides, pageants, entertainment and a large parade, among other activities. The region also has a Cotton Ramble bicycle ride the weekend after, with rides going by cotton fields and tours of area cotton gins available.
Kathy Medley, executive vice president of the Sikeston Regional Chamber and Economic Development, says the long-running Cotton Carnival celebration is rooted in the agriculture of the region.
“It’s a celebration of the cotton harvest,” she says.
This year is the 77th Cotton Carnival, scheduled for Sept. 28 through Oct. 2 at the Jaycee rodeo grounds in Sikeston.
Sikeston is located primarily in Scott County, with a small portion of town in New Madrid County. Medley says the community is something of a gateway to the robust cotton-growing regions along the Mississippi River corridor and across the South.
“We are the northernmost location that raises cotton,” she says. “You won’t see cotton till you get to Scott County (driving from the north).”
The American Legion began the celebration in 1945, just after the end of World War II, rooted in honoring veterans and the cotton harvest.
“The five-day festival honors military veterans of all branches and celebrates the annual cotton harvest,” Medley says.
She says the parade, held on the Saturday of the carnival, is a large one, featuring many local high school bands and several other groups and floats.
“The parade is huge,” she says. “It’s one of the biggest in the state of Missouri.”
This year, the theme of the parade focuses on celebrating the state’s long history.
“This year’s theme is the bicentennial (of the state of Missouri),” Medley says.
She says organizers were still able to hold the event last year and implement some safety measures. She says the excitement for this year’s event is high, and the carnival is a chance to get together, a chance to come home. Many area high schools make it their Homecoming weekend.
“I think it’s a homecoming,” Medley says. “A lot of the classes have their all-school reunion that weekend. There will be people tailgating out there. … This is one of the largest events in Sikeston, and it is a homecoming for folks coming back to visit.”