“Over 6,000 Ostriches in Salt River Valley” was the headline splashed across the Chandler Arizonan’s front page in February 1914.
The market for fashionable ostrich feathers was growing, the newspaper reported, and Chandler was becoming home to several owners of the large African bird.
Dr. A.J. Chandler, the city’s founder and namesake, kept a herd of ostriches on a plot of land behind the historic San Marcos Hotel.
Old photographs show neighbors visiting the entrepreneur’s ranch for a chance to spot the exotic birds through his barbed-wire fence.
They were warned not to bring their dogs along, as canines and ostriches “don’t mix.”
But World War I devastated Arizona’s ostrich trade and the contagious Spanish Influenza killed off many of the state’s birds.
Dr. Chandler was rumored to have kept a box of feathers in his basement in case the ostrich market bounced back.
It never did.
More than a century later, the only place Chandler residents can find an ostrich is at Tumbleweed Park every spring.
The Chandler Chamber of Commerce’s annual Ostrich Festival embraces a unique chapter of the city’s history by featuring the big-eyed, gangly birds in a series of ostrich-themed activities.
While ostriches have center stage, the fest also features pigs, camels ducks and other creatures in various exhibits.
In its 32nd year, the festival expects to attract more than 100,000 visitors and will include a lineup of new entertainment attractions.
Loop Rawlins, a professional roper who competed on “America’s Got Talent,” will demonstrate his skillful lassoing in a Western-themed stunt show.
Visitors can watch ducks swim toward the finish line in the Great American Duck Race or laugh at pigs doing vaudevillian acts in the Pork Chop Revue.
The Ostrich Festival will also have a number of educational attractions designed to spark the curiosity of younger patrons.
The Imaginology STEM tent provides several hands-on activities and puzzles that test the wits of children of all ages.
Visitors can also venture back 65 million years with a trip to the Pangaea Land of Dinosaurs exhibit and see a life-size Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Other live attractions include the Great Benjamin Circus, Professor Smart’s Science Show, obstacle courses and an educational ostrich exhibit.
Chandler Chamber of Commerce President Terri Kimble said her organization has been advocating for Chandler businesses since the early 1900s. So, it’s fitting that the Chamber put on an event reminiscent of Chandler’s early history.
Furthermore, Kimble said the festival’s a prime example as to how Chandler’s businesses, nonprofits and residents come together to put on a delightful show.
“We are blessed to have incredible help from our community and Chamber members making the experience smooth, fun and enjoyable,” Kimble said.
The Chamber hosted the first Ostrich Festival in 1988 to celebrate the city’s feathery roots. Spectators flocked to watch jockeys attempt to ride the seven-foot-tall birds in competitive races.
The carnival’s odd concept quickly attracted tourists and became one of Chandler’s most popular events.
The Travel Channel and National Geographic have done segments on the festival and it was featured in Whitney Houston’s 1995 film “Waiting to Exhale.”
Kimble said the festival’s longevity has made it part of Chandler’s culture – producing dozens of memories for the city’s natives.
“We have attendees stop by the Chamber tent at the festival sharing fond memories of when they came with their parents and family,” she said. “Now they attend with their kids to make memories with their own family.”
While ostrich races have been a part of the previous festivals, about 10 ostriches are now kept near the petting zoo behind a fenced-in area for people to view while videos provide fun facts about the birds.
The ostrich races have not been the “primary focus” of the festival over the last decade, Kimble said last year.
“We have truly transformed this festival into a true community festival,” Kimble said. “We have over 100 hours of musical entertainment throughout the festival and the festival has really changed over the past several years and it evolved.
“Each year we try to bring in something new, something different. We’re really going for an educational component and really kind of beefing that up, including that technology component.”
This year’s main stage entertainment includes 1990s boy band 98 Degrees, rock group the Blues Traveler, and disco girl group the Pointer Sisters.
The festival’s carnival will include the new Hawaiian Express ride, a fast-paced, up-down-around trip that increases in speed and goes backwards.
More carnival ride include the Giant Ferris Wheel, Vertigo, Inversion, 1001 Nachts, Quazar, Pole Position Coaster, Wave Swinger, Giant Scooter and the Scrambler.
If you go
What: 32nd Annual Ostrich Festival
Where: Tumbleweed Park, 2250 South McQueen Road
When: March 13-15
March 13, 9 p.m.: 98 Degrees
March 14, 9 p.m.: Blues Traveler
March 15, 8:30 p.m.: Poynter Sisters
Attractions: Ostrich exhibit, Professor Smart’s Science Show, Mango-and-Dango-Clowns, Radical Reptile Fun, pig races, Bear Hollow, STEM-Wild-Science, Imaginology STEM Tent, Pangaea Land of the Dinosaurs Adventure Land, The Pork Chop Revue, Great American Duck Race, Loop Rawlins One Man Wild West Show, pony rides, Building Kidz School Petting Zoo, The Great Benjamins Circus, Crayola and Curiosity Cube.
Ticket info: You can buy discounted general admission tickets at all Bashas’ and Food City locations statewide
Adults are $15, kids 4 to 12 and people over 55 can get in for $8. Unlimited ride wristbands are $27 unlimited. An $80 multipack includes two adult, two youth and two unlimited all-day ride wristbands. The multipack and wristbands are available only at Basha’s and Food City stores. Adult price at the festival increases after 2 p.m. to $20.
Tickets are valid for one-day entry and can be used on March 13, 14 or 15. VIP tickets start at $50 for adults, $30 for children and can be purchased online at OstrichFestival.com or on site.