People pack Mount Olive for pickle-perfect festival
By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 1, 2011 1:50 AM
The Mount Olive College Trojan Mascot and Charnel Austin race to pack pickles with Yonn Phan timing them at the 25th annual North Carolina Pickle Festival Saturday.
MOUNT OLIVE -- For at least a few hours Saturday people were able to forget the economic and natural storms that have beset the area, and focus instead on enjoying a pickle, simply having a good time and helping the community celebrate the 25th annual North Carolina Pickle Festival.
A crowd estimated at between 35,000 to 40,000 shorehorned its way into downtown to take in the sights and sample free Mt. Olive pickles.
On Friday night, nearly 500 people were at the Mount Olive Airport for the Band of Oz Concert that is part of the festival and sponsored by the Mount Olive Area Chamber of Commerce.
"This is probably the largest crowd I have seen in the last 10 years," said Interim Chief of Police Brian Rhodes. "Overall, I would say all day 35,000 to 40,000 (people). Starting about 10:30 this morning to right on up to 5 p.m. There was a crowd here at 5 p.m. It was really good crowd."
There were few problems other than some minor fender benders and rescue personnel helping a couple of people mainly suffering from heat problems, he said.
Rhodes said he had heard no complaints about the town's new parking rules that restricted parking to just one side of the side streets that cross Center Street. The parking was restricted to provide room for emergency vehicles.
"The shuttle buses (from Mount Olive College) have been utilized and that has helped tremendously," he said.
Rhodes and festival organizers said it appeared the crowd was more spread out than in previous years and that there had been a steady turnover as people came and left, only to be replaced by new faces.
Vendors were setting up their booths well before
6:30 a.m., and by 8:30 a.m. festival-goers were already
filtering into town, and the crowd remained until after the festival's official 5 p.m. finish.
Charlie and Deborah Faison of Goldsboro were among the mid-afternoon group, pushing a stroller with grandchildren, Jymeer and Amillion Lewis, along West Main Street following the aroma of teriyaki chicken, sausage and onions, turkey and steak toward North Center Street.
"This is my first time here," Mrs. Faison said. "I think it is nice from what I have seen so far."
"We are going to do it all -- walk around, ride and eat and greet people -- we are going to do it all," Faison said. "I saw an old co-worker and I am quite sure I will run into a lot more before I leave. It is great after the storm and all that has happened, it is great to see people out socializing like this. It is really a blessing.
"It is a real break on your wallet, too, but still you are going to have to buy, but it is worth it. It is like Christmas. It only happens once a year. It is worth it."
Mrs. Faison agreed.
"The prices seem reasonable from what I have seen so far," she said. "They (grandchildren) have spotted some stuff that they want. We are going to get them some things. We will turn them loose after awhile."
Alice Wicks, who was munching on pickles as she strolled down a packed North Center Street, said she enjoyed the festival.
"It is always fun, all of the different things out here to see," she said. "I enjoy seeing the people. It is just a nice place. I love Mt. Olive pickles. I always have. I like to see the people and what they are selling, but I like the pickles the best."
Close to 200 classic and modern cars lined North Center Street and there were three stages of non-stop free entertainment ranging from young dancers, to Christian music to country music to rock and roll.
Downtown Center Street was lined from James to Pollock streets with vendors serving up a variety of food, arts and crafts and other products. Vendors also were lined up along side streets and in the area behind the Chamber office.
Other booths were filled by local churches, civic and non-profit groups who took advantage of the packed downtown to raise funds for a host of projects.
Inside the former Belk building that will eventually house the new Steele Memorial Library, people were toting out bag after bag of books at the annual Friends of Steele Memorial Library Book Sale.
It also was the home of pickle art created by area
The carnival rides and the Animal Alley, complete with a petting zoo, pony rides, and a rock wall, bungee jump, Water Wars and mechanical bull were the favorites of the children.
Also a hit with the children was the new Pickle Plaster plunge -- a frame filled with cornstarch, water and green coloring that formed a gel.
People could run across it without sinking, but if they stopped, they sunk. The cost was $1 with the money going to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.
The children not only ran across, they jumped and skipped and when they got through, headed to a water hose to rinse the green coloring off their feet.
Well before the 12:30 p.m. start of the Andy's Big A Challenge the corner of East Main and North Center streets was a logjam of people waiting to see a team of
professional eaters and one amateur attempt to devour a 50-ounce cheeseburger, six ounces of fries and 24-ounce drink in record time.
They were not at all
Canadian "Furious" Pete Czerwinski downed the mass of food in a record-setting three minutes and two seconds to claim the $2,000 top prize.
Defending three-time champion "Gentleman" Joe Menchetti of Wallingford, Conn. was second at four minutes, 24 second to claim $1,000. Third place and $500 went to David "Tiger Wings" Brunelli of Philadelphia, Pa. with a time of four minutes 47 seconds.
The fourth annual event was sponsored by Andy's Burgers Shakes and Fries.
"It has been a great day," said Chamber Board Chairwoman Lynn Williams. "Early on the crowds were lighter than last year, but right now we are pretty packed. I would say at least as large as last year. The crowds have been good and we kind of rearranged some things I think that has gone well. We put all of the animals over in the alley and we moved the Christian stage down to South Center.
"We have been able to draw a lot more crowds down on South Center Street. I think that has kind of spread it out some, too. We have had a nice crowd on South Center. We have always struggled to try and draw a crowd down to that end of the street. I think we have finally succeeded this year."
Mrs. Williams said it was "kind of hard to find" the right mix of things on South Center Street, but that she thought putting the Christian stage down there was a good idea.
"At first they (entertainment) were a little worried about it this morning, but they have had a steady crowd all day," Mrs. Williams said. "Having the micro-reality, that is always a festival favorite."
Mrs. Williams said that traffic in the alleyway behind the Chamber had been steady as well.
"Every time I have been back there it has been full," she said. "I think that part has worked well. I think we have done a better job this year of making the festival safer in terms of how we laid out the festival out -- making sure our corners are clear and not putting vendors right on the corners, making sure the streets were wide enough so that we could get emergency traffic down them if we needed to and not blocking the streets."
Vendor space was pretty much full and others had to be turned away because what they needed might not have been available, she said.
"It has been pretty well spread out today," she said. "It has been pretty good all of the way around."
Former Chamber president Patti O'Donoghue called the festival "unbelievable."
"There vendors further down all the streets than I have ever seen them before," she said. "The food smells are absolutely wonderfully and the crowd is having a good time. I just don't how it can be any better. It is not even noon and look how crowded it is.
"The museum is open for tours we have a steady stream of people coming in and out. I was here last night working with the friends of the Library and that corner up there (by the carnival rides) was just bursting with children and people and just fun. This is absolutely exciting it is beyond anything that I could have dreamed of. I just think the sky is the limit for this festival."