04/29/07 — Thousands turn out for N.C. Pickle Festival

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Thousands turn out for N.C. Pickle Festival

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 29, 2007 2:00 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- A little embarrassed maybe, Riley Harbor denied that he had been waiting for the North Carolina Pickle Festival for almost a year, but his mom nodded her head, smiled and said that yes, he had.

"We found out about it just after it happened last year, so we've been waiting for this," Ann Harbor of Charlotte said. "He likes pickles a lot. This is a big deal."

On that point, Riley, 7, didn't disagree. Pickles are definitely his favorite food, he said.

Even though it was barely 12:30 in the afternoon and the rest of his family was just eating lunch, he'd already eaten four of Mt. Olive Pickle Co.'s finest.

Two-and-a-half hours later, he was munching on his seventh and eighth.

"I love them," Riley said. "They're really juicy and tasty and my favorite color -- green."

And he wasn't the only one crunching down dill pickles, sweet pickles and bread and butter pickles as the lines at the Mt. Olive Pickle Co. booth never seemed to shorten during the afternoon.

Organizer Gena Knode estimated that with crowds of more than 20,000 people, there were probably more than 60,000 pickles eaten.

"Every time I went by their booth, they had long lines and it seemed almost everybody had a little cup of pickles with them walking around," she said.

But the chance for free pickles wasn't the only reason people turned out for Saturday's festival.

Vera Sutton, 61, came -- like she does every year -- for the funnel cakes.

Looking content as she stood next to the railroad tracks, she picked apart her fried dough -- topped with powdered sugar and strawberries -- and watched the crowds ebb and flow around her.

"I came for this and to just watch and look around. I've been coming about as long as they've had it," she said.

Being out and about was the reason Bill Potts of Mount Olive came, too.

"Just to see everyone," he said. "I come down here, ride around, look around, look at people and talk to them," he said.

It was the first time, though, for Tim Ewell and his daughters Racquel, 9, and Tiny Miss N.C. Pickle Princess 2007 Josephine Ewell, 5. Traveling from Elizabeth City, Ewell said he was impressed with the size of the event.

Of course his daughters weren't too worried about the crowds. They were more interested in squeezing in as many carnival rides and petting zoo visits as they could between Josephine's official appearances.

"We're having a great time," Ewell said.

Others came from both within and outside of Wayne County for the 21-year-old festival.

Some came for the classic cars being displayed by the Wayne County Cruisers, while others came to watch pigs and ducks race and get a good, tasty sausage dog.

Even the vendors were enjoying themselves on the sunny afternoon as temperatures stayed in the mid-70s.

First time participants Robert and Laurie Brainard said that even though sales of their gemstone and bead jewelry and glassware hadn't gone quite as well as they'd hoped, by about 1 p.m. Saturday, the pickle party had so far been great.

"We've never been in the Carolinas before and we wanted to see the area," Laurie said.

The couple, both in their 50s, explained that about two years ago, they sold their Las Vegas home and everything in it, bought an RV and now spend their time traveling to various shows and festivals across the country. On Saturday, they even happened to have their two green glass fish named Dilbert and Pickles with them.

"We enjoy it, and really, we do it to meet people," Robert said. "Today's been fun. The music's been good, the people here are really nice and really friendly. To me, that's more important than anything else."

And it's those kinds of experiences and the number of people out enjoying the beautiful day, that made the 2007 N.C. Pickle Festival an unqualified success, Ms. Knode said.

"Everything's gone really well," she said. "It was phenomenal. We just had so many people out here, even by nine in the morning.

"Twenty-thousand plus is a very safe estimate. It had to be a record crowd. To me, it was much better and much smoother than last year."