The big story on the front page of the Idaho Statesman was that Douglas Van Vlack, convicted of a triple homicide in Twin Falls, was likely to hang for it. In world news Japan was marching on Nanking and police in Kansas City were using tear gas on strikers at the Ford plant.
But those page one stories didn’t bring us here today. It was a page two story that caught my attention. Datelined Washington, the headline read “Maine Accepts Idaho’s Challenge To Showdown Spud Eating Contest.” Idaho’s congressional delegation had challenged the one from Maine to a contest to take place the next day in the House restaurant.
Representative Owen Brewster (R), Maine, demanded a “blindfold test,” saying that “a Maine potato would be humiliated if its eyes saw an Idaho potato in the same oven.” Nasty politics, it seems, are not a recent invention.
Idaho’s potatoes would be served on Tuesday and Maine’s spuds would be on the Wednesday menu. The judges for the contest were to be delegates from Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Alaska. Those were all territories at that time, so their delegates were probably eager to volunteer for any duty.
The gravity of the decision was not lost on the judges. Would it impact their chances for statehood? Who would want to take a chance?
When it came time to show their cards, each of them was blank. The judges had punted. This gave the press an opportunity to call the decision “half-baked.” The speaker of the House, who was from Alabama, took the opportunity to complain that “This was an Irish potato contest. If it were one to decide the potency of the sweet potato the vote would go unanimously for Alabama yams.”
As the Statesman reported, both camps issued bristling post-potato statements. “’It was a raw decision,’ snarled Maine’s Representative Brewster. ‘Anybody ought to be able to tell those potatoes from Aroostook were best.’”
“’Idaho’s are the best in the world,’ barked Idaho’s Representative D. Worth Clark, ‘those judges must have paralyzed palates.’”
After the advertising stunt, the representatives all enjoyed baked potatoes. Idaho got a bill for $52 worth of butter that had to be purchased locally after the Idaho butter that was being flown in failed to arrive.