100 Years of Fluff

Photo by Rosalee Zammuto.

One hundred years ago, confectionary shop owner Archibald Query invented Marshmallow Fluff in his Union Square home. While production of the sticky-sweet spread has since moved to Lynn, Fluff has managed to cement itself in the fabric of Somerville—in part through an annual festival that attracts thousands of visitors to the square.

The Fluff Festival, now in its 12th year, is using the centennial to look forward. The theme for this year’s festival—scheduled for Sept. 23—is “FluffCentennial: Inspiring the Next Century of Union Square Invention.”

“Somerville, and I think this is particularly true of Union Square, is this wonderful blend of old nostalgia and innovation and invention,” event organizer Esther Hanig says. “It’s kind of the perfect thing—many people associate Fluff with childhood, it brings back all these childhood memories, but at the same time it really was innovative for its time. And once again, Union Square is a hub of invention. We’re a little different, we’re a little zany, and we can be zany and wacky at the same time that we’re serious.”

The Somerville High School robotics team and Artisan’s Asylum will run an invention alley. Festival-goers can check out the 3Doodler—a 3D pen invented in Somerville—or laser printing. There will also be a tinkering station for children. To experiment with a different kind of invention, people can “reinvent” themselves for a costume contest.

One of the annual events, the Fluff cooking contest, happens to align with this year’s invention theme, Hanig explains. Celebrity judges for the contest include Eater Boston’s Rachel Leah Blumenthal, WBUR’s Anthony Brooks, WBZ-TV’s Lisa Hughes, and The Smoke Shop’s Andy Husbands. Awards include “most inventive recipe.” Mayor Joseph Curtatone will act as an emcee to announce the winners.

The event will also feature Fluff games and over 40 vendors. Fluff-themed bowling, musical chairs, and jousting will accompany pin the F on the Fluff boy. Many local restaurants will put Fluff-y spins on their dishes—people can choose from a sweet empanada (sweet potato paste mixed with chocolate and Fluff) or a savory empanada (banana, peanut, bacon, and Fluff) from Buenas or pick up a Fluff cone from Gracie’s Ice Cream.

The musical line-up includes Squeezebox Stompers, Jan Marie & the Mean Reds, and Ten Tumbao. Rogue Burlesque’s Flufferettes will perform in between the musical groups.

Organizers are expecting about 15,000 people to attend this year’s event, which runs from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Union Square Plaza.

The festival is put on by Union Square Main Streets, a collective that supports commercial and economic development in Union Square while also preserving the square’s character, and is sponsored in part by the Somerville Arts Council.

“An event like this is unbelievably complicated. There’s so many moving parts. Usually I have one minute, somewhere in the middle of the festival, where I can just look around and see all the people having a great time and the energy. It’s that moment when you see it all come together, when you see how much fun people are having, and the feeling of the community that made it happen. It’s such a wonderful event that really typifies Union Square,” Hanig says.