Eeyore’s party hosts lively guests

Victoria Heckenlaible

Crowds of fairy wings, tutus and an occasional look-a-like “Winnie the Pooh” character headed down to the heart of Pease Park on Saturday. Tribal drumming became more distinct and fiesta-style, tissue-paper flowers decorated every tree and shrub in sight.

A.A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh” story has inspired the Eeyore’s Birthday Party event for 47 years. The storybook characters pull together spontaneous fun to surprise the poor, depressed donkey, who believes all have forgotten his birthday. Austin crowds join with Piglet, Christopher Robin and Pooh for a spring birthday party.

In 1963, UT students Lloyd Birdwell and Jean Craver, along with English professor James Ayres, latched onto this story. Boosted by spring fever, they started picnicking with a keg and children’s games on an unspecified Friday in May. The only hint that the party was happening was Piglet’s birthday gift to Eeyore — a single red balloon.

The picnic grew into a festival attracting people from all over Austin from hippies to families with children.

“There is nothing like Eeyore’s,” said annual attendee Chris Ogerly. “You hear about [these people and activities] in Austin, but you don’t get to see them all the time.”

The attendees kept the celebration’s connection to childhood memories, bringing out Hula-hoops and bubbles and donning fanciful costumes. Children added to the carefree environment by making crafts and by tying Travis Watkins, a UT computer science alumnus, to a May Pole.

Children held colorful plastic ribbons attached to a large pole. Under Watkins’ supervision, they were instructed to walk clockwise. Rebelling against such strict instructions, several of the boys took off in the wrong direction. Watkins soon became bound, surrounded by small children gloating over their victory.

Up the hill from the May Pole, adults upheld the giddy, childlike attitude. Spontaneous drum circles broke out around women wearing tutus and acrylic painted-on bras, hipster college students and a single frat boy in Round-Up sunglasses.

“[Eeyore’s Birthday Party] makes Austin the type of place I want to live in,” said Scott Sexton, president of the Friends of the Forrest Foundation, the organization that runs the party. “The people that show up are the lifeblood of Eeyore’s Birthday, and of Austin itself.”