Many people are familiar with Mardi Gras celebrations on the day before Lent. But in Liberal Kansas, the day before Lent means just one thing....it's Pancake Day!
The friendly little competition between Liberal Kansas and Olney England, with women running down the streets of each town flipping pancakes, has been going on for more that 60 years. It is still the only race of its kind in the world.
On Shrove Tuesday, at 11:55 p.m. the race begins, with the overall score standing at 33 wins for Liberal and 25 for Olney. In 1980 the score didn't count because a media truck blocked the finish line in Olney.
It all started in 1950 from a magazine picture of the Olney women racing each other to the church. Liberal Jaycee President R.J. Leete contacted the Reverand Ronald Collins, Vicar of St. Peter and St. Paul's church in Olney, challenging their women to race against women of Liberal
In Olney, the Pancake Race traditions date back more than 500 years to 1445. A woman engrossed in using up cooking fats (forbidden during Lent) was making pancakes. Hearing the church bells ring calling everyone to the shriving service, she grabbed her head scarf (required in church) and ran to the church, skillet and pancake in hand and still apron clad. In following years, neighbors got into the act and it became a race to see who could reach he church first and collect a "Kiss of Peace" from the verger ( bell ringer). The kiss is still the traditional prize in both races.
Racers must still wear a head scarf and apron and the runner must flip her pancake at the starting signal, and again after crossing the finish line, to prove she still has her pancake.
Winning scores have traded back and forth between the two towns. The record time was set in 2001 when 3 time winner, Lisa Spillman of Liberal, ran the 415 yard S -shaped course in 58.1 seconds.
International Pancake Day in Liberal has expanded into a 4 day event, beginning with pancake eating and flipping contests, a cooking contest, and a parade. Other events include a talent show, an authentic English High Tea, the pancake races, and a shroving service.