Independence can be dark, asleep by 6 p.m. on a Saturday. The town is a blink away from being missed along Highway 395; a more inconspicuous place to hide could not be found. Yet there were rumors of a Super Friends rave in an abandoned warehouse; characters with special powers in capes and masks drunk on an egg-infused rum libation,- dancing around a magical, nut-filled cake.
The rumors were true: it was a gathering of super humans for the 11th Annual Internationally Acclaimed Fruitcake Festival.
In search of the Festival, I traveled to Independence on Saturday. There was an eerie silence as I walked up to a dark entrance to the American Legion Hall. I opened the door and was immediately blinded by bright lights and nearly flattened by blaring music.
Inside was a crowd of caped crusaders. A woman dressed in red and gold asked me for the secret password. She let me in even though I didn’t have one, but kept an eye on me the entire evening. I saw Wonder Bread Woman kissing the Pillsbury Doughboy, Batman crowned Festival King. The Roadrunner brought a bomb, and there was plenty of cross dressing and cosplay. Jugs of nog lined the bar and fruit-filled space cakes lined the tables.
There is a direct connection between super heroes and fruitcake. Inyo County Superior Court and Fruitcake Judge Brian Lamb explained. “In Nietzsche’s book, Spake Zarathustra, the Ubermensch, roughly translated as a Superman, is mentioned. Fruitcake was a staple in Germany at the time, but also known to have hallucinogenic properties. Had Nietzsche not been on a fruitcake-induced trip, he might never have thought up the Uber-man concept to begin with, depriving the world of a Superman.”
The festival is about the fruitcake. Cakes are judged on “Traveled the Farthest,” “Most Solids,” “Oldest,” and “Best of Theme.” Judges included Lamb, new Inyo County Assistant County Administrator Rick Benson, Rick Bright, and Sheriff Bill Lutze, “On the off chance we need law enforcement support,” said Nancy Masters, emcee and event co-organizer.
Masters, Inyo County Librarian, came as a Super Librarian. The symbol on her cape was of a scantily clad blonde firing two automatic weapons with the phrase “Pay your fines or die!”
Bright is the official nut tester, or judge for “The Most Solids,” using the festival’s official “Nutometer” to check a cake’s crevasses and small spaces to find even the smallest nuts.
Contestants and super heroes were given the opportunity to reveal their fruitcake secrets and/or nightmares. The Pillsbury Doughboy said, “My wife, Wonder Bread Woman, chose to make Wonder Bread Fruitcake Pudding made with 4-year old fruit and a rich sauce of … I don’t know what.”
Masters said every adult has a creative side and this is the perfect venue to let the freak flag fly. She said the community appreciates the opportunity to express their “inner wackiness.”
John Klusmire, supposedly dressed like Charlie Brown, although he didn’t look like he was in costume, was the first to write about the festival. “They were talking about it, so I wrote an article about what a terrible idea it was and the next thing you know …” Klusmire served as festival King for several years before handing the crown to Bryan Kostors in 2009. The crown is a Carmen Miranda-esque pyramid weighed down with 11 years of accretion from past festivals.
The festival is the not-to-be-missed event of the year. The Sheet Editor Katie Vane was in such a rush to get there, she got tangled in her shower curtain and just went with it, using it as a cape. Vane didn’t win the costume contest; those honors went to a foursome: the Pillsbury Doughboy and Wonder Bread Woman (Dave and Gayle Woodruff), Powerpuff Girl (Judith Greenburg) and Dick Tracy (Bob Ellsworth).
The highlight of the event is the excavation and presentation of the “Oldest Cake” also known as the “archival cake.” The 11-year old bundt-shaped object was claimed from a radioactive containment barrel. Masters said the archival cake has mellowed with age, but desiccation from the dry Owens Valley climate has made it “pungent.”
Lisa Thatcher was chosen as the official taste tester of the oldest cake. Thatcher said her mother was from England and made fruitcake every Christmas. “I hated it,” she said. Thatcher would not be disappointed.
“You can really taste the age,” she said, politely nibbling on a crumb, then her eyes started to water. “It tastes like haggis.” After the event, while trying to get the stench of the cake off her hands, Thatcher told The Sheet she was visiting the area to go deer hunting. She looked at her hands again and smelled them. She quickly pulled her nose away, and said the cake smelled and tasted exactly like a dead deer. The Sheet whiffed her palms to confirm.