On the third weekend of May a very successful car show happens in a very unlikely place. It's called Lost in the '50s, and in the past quarter century it's grown to the point where it takes over the entire town of Sandpoint, Idaho, for almost an entire weekend.
Never heard of Sandpoint you say? Well you're not alone. If Idaho's panhandle is the middle of nowhere, Sandpoint is the outer edge. It's smack-dab between Coeur d'Alene and Canada, and as far as Google maps are concerned, it's one of the last northernmost towns worth noting. Still, it attracts nearly 500 cars from every corner of the country.
Part of what makes Lost unique is its cruise-a trip through both time and the real streets
The event may be Sandpoint's big hurrah, but it's Carolyn Gleason's baby. Never heard of Gleason either? Well that's no surprise; she's about as unlikely a person to promote a car show as you'd think. She runs a pizza joint on Second Avenue. Reflecting on that first show 24 years ago she says, "I didn't know anything about putting on a car show. Heck, I don't even own an old car!"
What's more, the car show was adjunct to a '50s-themed dance she organized as part of a means to drum up money for the Festival of Sandpoint, a non-profit organization that brings musicians to the area. "We just wanted to do rock 'n' roll and get cars and have a good time," she explained. "There wasn't much of that going on 24 years ago. I got Bobby Vee and Del Shannon to come up the first year," Gleason continued. "I thought 'OK, we need cars too.'" So she went and begged friends and a recent winner of the Spokane Auto Boat and Speed Show to bring their early tin.
"We did a Friday night cruise where we hooked up speakers on the back of a Lincoln Continental convertible," she said. "We drove around hanging out of the car with pom-poms trying to get some action."
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But something unexpected happened: The little dance made money. "We had 26 cars that year," Gleason observed. "The next year we had 56 cars. 'Holy mackerel, what's this?'" she pondered. The third year they hired Fabian. "The dance sold out like we were rock stars," she said, bragging that the dance sold out in a tick more than 20 hours. Oh yeah, 100 cars showed up too.
The event breaks down like this: It spans four days and includes several shows, dances, a cruise through town, and a full-fledged show downtown. It kicks off Thursday night with Rock 'N' Roll Heaven at the Panida Theatre, a '20s-era vaudeville and movie house. It's an impersonation show. "I mean how do you see Elvis anymore?" Gleason asked. "A lot of these original artists are gone but we wanted to show what they were like. It's my way of getting really fun music out of young entertainers, people who bring people like Elvis, Roy Orbison, Patsy Cline, Jackie Wilson, The Big Bopper, and Buddy Holly back to life. It's the spirit."
On Friday afternoon cars and their drivers assemble at the high school parking lot. Once fully amassed, they line file out onto Division and head north. At this point the logistics of the cruise start to weigh in. Division is the town's longest north/south street, and as its name implies it's a fairly major thoroughfare. In fact, the city won't close off the entire street it's so important. But that doesn't really affect anything. Spectators, sometimes several people deep, line Division all the way to Cedar. It's really quite a spectacle.
Hooking a right onto Cedar is sort of a time warp. You know those nostalgic tree-lined places in the movies? Sandpoint is one of 'em. The town was incorporated in 1898, so it's got the history. It's pretty obvious by the buildings that the timber-harvesting money stayed here.
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