Originally posted on July 16, 2009.
OCEAN BEACH, CA. For
24 26 years now, OBceans have been lobbing marshmallows at each other once the fireworks die down on July 4th. Since it began in 1985 with warring parties of neighbors at the beach all the way to this year, hundreds if not thousands of participants have joined the virtual free-for-all around the bonfires.
But now calls to end this particular brand of totally-local OB shenanigan have surfaced – a lot because of speculation that the injuries of Chris Bowd – the unconscious homeboy – had some connection to the Marshmallow fight – and because of the mess that the marshmallows have left on different areas of our waterfront. Veteran’s Rock at the foot of Newport Avenue suffered greatly from the mess, for instance.
OB Rag readers have left a number of comments questioning the sanity of allowing this once a year sport to continue. Our blog began a poll about this (see the sidebar) and the Beacon even started a readers’ poll on the issue. In the current Beacon, at the tail end of an article about Chris Bowd, writer Anthony Gentile also raises the question whether the mushy conflict has escalated beyond its original safe boundaries. (The article’s history is a little off.) Here’s an excerpt:
Ocean Beach MainStreet Association executive director Denny Knox said the event should probably be scaled back a little bit.
“Every year it’s different – it depends who the players are,” Knox said. “I think they’re going to have to police themselves a little more carefully and agree to take it down a couple of notches.”
As of this writing, 69% of the respondents to the OB Rag poll want the Marshmallow Wars tradition to continue, although nearly half of those want some kind of controls placed on the event by volunteers, whereas 27% believe the event is out of control and want it to end. 3% wanted to study the issue. At that time we had 62 respondents.
Ban the Marshmallow Fight? Holy-dripping chocolate!
I immediately wanted to know what Rich Grosch thought about this, as I knew he had something to do with the origins of the event. I contacted him via email and he told me he would give me a copy of an article that the Beacon ran seven years ago on the history of this controversy.
I picked up the article from Rich this morning and want to make it available. (The Beacon does not have it in its online archival section.) For its history, the Beacon interviewed Grosch and Doug Morton, and reported:
Grosch’s annual celebration of independence were rivaled only by those of Tom Zounes, who lived four blocks away on Muir Street.
On July 4, 1985, Grosch and friends were at the beach near lifeguard Tower 2 enjoying the annual fireworks display when they decided to find an alternate use for their s’more ingredients.
“(The Zouneses) were the next party over from the fire, so they seemed like a natural target, … it spontaneously erupted into a marshmallow fight,” said early participant Doug Morton.
Interestingly enough, the marshmallow war was not truly declared on Ocean Beach sand until Morton changed his allegiances. After renting a home on Saratoga Street fro 13 years, Morton purchased a home on Muir Street in 1986, right next to the Zouneses.
That Fourth of July, Muir Street got its revenge.
“We couldn’t just let Saratoga pelt us again, so we worked on a catapult, using surgical tubing and PVC pipe and we actually went down to the beach and rehearsed launching bags of marshmallows at once,” Morton said. “It was one of the funniest things you’ve ever seen. Apparently my allegiance instantly defected to my new residence, it’s amazing what property taxes will do.”
Muir Street’s secret weapon was a success. Assisted by the fact that the Saratoga Street party decided to celebrate the holiday with lighted headbands, Morton and friends had no trouble hitting their targets, hundreds of marshmallows at a time.
“They killed us. I probably had a thousand marshmallows in my face. That’s the last time we had the hats,” Grosch said.
The rivalry continued for a few years, until the two parties decided things were on the verge on being out of control and called a truce. But at that point it was too late, a tradition had begun.
“That year when the fireworks were done, we started walking up the beach and all of a sudden marshmallows just started flying, the thing had taken on a life of its own,” Grosch said.
With this history under my belt, I approached Rich Grosch at his office and asked him about this new controversy on his old tradition. As he works for an elected official, he only had a couple of minutes on this issue, understandably.
“I don’t want to be seen as the expert on the Marshmallow Wars,” he said right off the top. Rich offered up few new historical details, however, he confided that there’s always been some injuries during the conflicts. “My son once got hit by a yellow-tail one year,” he said. Yellow-tail the fish.
Also, one funny thing happened – one year a platoon of cops had arrived to deal with the perceived out-of-control situation. The police officers advanced on the scene complete with plastic shields. They started taking on hits – of marshmallows – of course. When the commanding officer realized they were only being pelted with the gooey white blobs, he barked out: “Back on the trucks!” and they took off.
This year Rich saw the mess. He is partners with others in the OB Hotel right at the corner of Newport and Abbott. Their awning got hit and “we’re going to have to get it steam cleaned,” he said.
He agreed that there should be some kind of control. “Keep it on the beach,” was his response. The War had always occurred at the fire rings near the Life Guard station. But two years ago, Rich said, Police Chief Lansdown decided to expand it from the Pier to the Life Guard station.
This could be the source of the current mess. The area of conflict is too broad. By keeping it only on the beach, other problems then possibly could be minimized.
I asked him point-blank: should the Marshmallow war be ended?
“You can’t,” he said immediately. “It has a life of its own.”