New exhibit tells story of Beaufort Water Festival's past

emoody@beaufortgazette.comJuly 1, 2013 

  • The Beaufort Water Festival exhibit opens Tuesday at the Beaufort History Museum, on the first floor of Beaufort City Hall, 1911 Boundary St.

    Admission: $3; free for museum members

    Hours: 10 a.m. to noon and 2 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

    Information: 843 277-1443,

Willard Outlaw carefully flipped through his scrapbook of photos and yellowing newspaper clippings Monday morning at the Beaufort History Museum.

"I did show off -- would you believe how I showed off," Outlaw said, recalling the first festival water-skiing competition, which he competed in and helped organize.

He admired pictures of his much younger self and Steve Bishop, taken when they skied in the 1950s. He named the various Water Festival beauty queens and told how they came from all over the state to compete.

The stories from Outlaw and other contributors will be told this month at the Beaufort History Museum, in a temporary exhibit to showcase items from the Beaufort Water Festival's past.

From the beginning, the Water Festival has drawn people to compete in boat and swimming races, ski competitions and beauty contests. Young women came from across South Carolina for a chance to become the Queen of the Sea Islands, and attendees danced into the night at the Regatta Ball and Water Festival Ball.

Outlaw is one of several who answered the museum's call for memorabilia to display. On Monday, Outlaw reminisced about his contribution.

"The girls would stay here as guests in the mansions, with the people who owned them, and they would stay for the weekend, and they would all be in these beauty pageants and in the parade," he recalled. "We were 'the thing' at the time."

The exhibit opens Tuesday and is timed to roughly coincide with this year's 58th annual event, from July 19 to 28. The exhibit will run through the end of July.

It includes photos, T-shirts, programs, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia. Among the contributors are past commodore and first lady Craig and Martie Kay McTeer, who lent dozens of T-shirts.

Former first lady Julie Schott lent photos she collected from the festival's first 50 years.

"What's most exciting about the exhibit is the stories it pulls out of people," museum board president Katherine Lang said.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at

Related content:

Water Festival holds on to the joys of a tough life, July 16, 2011

Beaufort Water Festival a constant in the shifting sands of Lowcountry life, July 12, 2012

Beaufort History Museum

Beaufort Water Festival

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