Petaluma's Butter and Egg Days renews small town traditions

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There’s more to winning beauty contests than bright smiles and big dimples. Sometimes it’s all about the hat.

Scarlett Cosgrove, 3, proved that Saturday when she beat out a record 86 other contestants to be crowned Cutest Little Chick in Town at Petaluma’s 35th annual Butter and Egg Days festival.

Like dozens of others, the youngster wore a homemade chicken costume covered in yellow feathers. But she set herself apart with the massive, Beach Blanket Babylon-style hat featuring elements of this year’s train theme. Her parents, Jemetha and Robert, kept the nearly 2-foot-tall hat perched on their daughter’s noggin.

“It’s a little tricky to balance,” said Jemetha Cosgrove of Petaluma.

Scarlett’s reaction to winning the grand prize in what is thought to be the largest Cutest Chick field in history?

“I want to ride on the float,” she said.

The Cosgrove family members were among an expected 30,000 people to descend on Petaluma under sunny skies for the popular festival and parade honoring the city’s agrarian past.

While poultry and dairy got the usual nods in the one-time egg capital of the world, the coming Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit train was reflected in many floats and costumes.

Petaluma’s station, not far from downtown, will become a new commuting hub for a number of the city’s 60,000 residents. And the train, scheduled to begin service later this year, will underscore Petaluma’s transition from farm town to bedroom community for the greater Bay Area.

Truck driver and Petaluma native Steve Jensen commented on the shift as he watched the parade go by on Washington Street alongside his wife, Tricia.

“I was raised on a dairy here,” said Jensen, pushing up the brim of a straw cowboy hat. “We milked 320 cows a day.”

Now, more than 60 years later, Jensen said Petaluma has changed, “and not always for the better.”

But he said he still enjoys the parade he was in as a kid when the population was less than a tenth of what it is today.

“I used to drag race on this street,” Jensen said, gesturing to the bustling thoroughfare.

Others said Petaluma is still a small town and events like Butter and Egg Days make it great.

Families set up chairs along the parade route the night before or laid out blankets to mark choice spots. As the procession started, they shouted to friends riding by in vintage cars and on themed floats.

“It’s nice to see people getting together,” said Chip Rutan, who moved to Petaluma from San Francisco four years ago with his wife, Ceres. “That’s what makes this special.”

Spectators flocked to the two signature contests — the Cutest Chick and a cow-pie-throwing competition.

The winner of the latter event, Petaluma fire Battalion Chief Jeff Schach, hurled a dried cow patty nearly all the way from the front of McNear’s Mystic Theater to B Street, a distance of about 50 yards.

“There are a lot of techniques, but the one that wins the most is a sidearm, baseball-style toss,” organizer Tom Corbett said.

Cutest Chick contestants lined up along Kentucky Street in the usual feather boas, felt beaks hiding pacifiers and chicken hats.

This year’s train theme saw a new element — wagons made to look like SMART trains.

Eight-month-old Brooke Bianchi of Santa Rosa sat atop a painted rail car made by her father, Joe, wearing feathers and a conductor’s hat.

As she rolled toward the stage, her dad and mom, Stacy Leveroni, urged her to ring a small bell they placed in her tiny hand. She shot back a confused look.

“We got a cute baby,” said Joe Bianchi, a butcher. “That’s the main thing.”

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or On Twitter @ppayne.

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