They came for the birthday cake but stayed for the music and dancing.
Author John Steinbeck's 111th birthday was celebrated Sunday with an entertainment medley along with an open house, kids' activities and free tours to Monterey County residents of the National Steinbeck Center in the author's home town of Salinas.
Steinbeck was born in Salinas on Feb. 27, 1902, and the Steinbeck Center held its first birthday celebration for his 110th last year.
About 500 people came to tour the center, eat birthday cake, and watch local talent perform in honor of Salinas' most famous son: Jean Robinson Dancers, the Salinas Youth Orchestra, Aztec Dancers, American Conservatory Theater, storytellers and others throughout the afternoon.
Dancers performed on a floor in the center of the foyer, with a ghostly transparent portrait of Steinbeck hovering overhead.
The entertainment held the crowd this year, said Esmeralda Montenegro, spokeswoman for the Steinbeck Center.
"Last year everybody left after the birthday cake!"
The celebratory cake slices were donated by local bakeries. MY Museum sent its Wheelie Mobilee with its child-oriented activities package, as did the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Tables busy with kids doing arts and crafts, others providing posters and pamphlets related to the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, face-painting or offering goodies other than free birthday cake were scattered around the center.
Guided tours — in both English and Spanish — took visitors through rooms containing artifacts related to Steinbeck's novels, short stories and screenplays: snippets of film from "East of Eden," "Viva Zapata!," "Of Mice and Men" and "The Grapes of Wrath," videos of readings, scenes from plays and other offshoots of his literary works.
Visitors could look at "Rocinante," the camper-pickup truck Steinbeck drove across the United States and back, recording the journey in "Travels with Charley;" snippets of his descriptions of the men and women who populated his books, specimens from Ed "Doc" Rickett's Pacific Marine Laboratory on Cannery Row, photographs and other memorabilia.
Steinbeck wrote most of his works in and about the Central Coast, but his novels, short stories and journals drew a worldwide audience.
His work has long been popular in Latin America, Montenegro said, particularly his novel "The Pearl," his screenplay for the film "Viva Zapata," and his depiction of the plight of farmworkers in "The Grapes of Wrath."
The National Steinbeck Center is at One Main Street, Salinas. For information about future events, see www.steinbeck.org.
Kevin Howe can be reached at 646-4416 or firstname.lastname@example.org.