Contests, soup and entertainment are trademarks of the Winesburg Fall Gathering
by Jennifer Kneuss
When the Imperial Castle of Emperor Conrad III was invaded in the small village of Winesburg, Germany centuries ago, the women of the town, who were to be allowed to leave along with the small children, knew that their left-behind husbands would face a horrible fate. The women quickly pleaded with the invaders to allow them to at least carry their most valuable possessions beyond the village grounds. The invaders agreed that they could take only what they could carry on their backs, and the women promptly hoisted their husbands onto their backs and carried them off to safety.
That charming bit of lore is still remembered in Winesburg, Ohio, when the Winesburg Fall Gathering takes place each September. There, local wives in the Husband Carrying Contest once again hoist their husbands of all shapes and sizes onto their backs and race to see who is the fleetest of foot. The winners receive bragging rights and a prize, and the audience gets a good laugh.
“We have at least six to 12 couples involved. There are some definite long-standing rivalries there,” admitted Debbie Weber, Winesburg Business Association president and festival organizer, who also serves as the postmistress in the charming little town nestled in Amish Country.
The Winesburg Fall Gathering is also known for its food, specifically the volunteer fire department’s famous chicken barbecue, the historical society’s homemade ice cream and, of course, the soup.
“Every year we make about 55 gallons of ham and bean soup in this big iron kettle,” explained Weber. “We start it around 4 a.m., and it’s ready to serve sometime after 10 a.m. By 3 p.m., it’s all gone.”
This year’s 17th annual event will be held on Saturday, Sept. 15. Be sure to get there early (the festival officially opens at 8 a.m.) for the best chance to discover treasures among the tables provided by antique dealers and craft vendors, or to look over the antique tractors on display.
Live entertainment throughout the day will include the music of bluegrass bands like Salt Creek Inc. and Glenn Park’s Banjo Entertainment. New this year will be a dulcimer group and there will also be oldies tunes coming from the band Prism. Celtic/folk rock band Maidens IV, a nationally known group consisting of four young sisters from the Loudonville area, will make its inaugural appearance this year, too. The Akron University Steel Drum Band will be pounding out mesmerizing rhythms as well, so the 2012 entertainment lineup is top notch and will cover many genres.
A highlight is always the auction at 3 p.m., where handcrafted Amish furniture and goods, as well as all sorts of other items, will go to the highest bidders. The auction usually draws to a close just about the time that the barbecue chicken aroma is simply too much to resist, and no one will want to leave empty-handed or with an empty stomach.
“Funds raised will go toward the preservation and restoration of historical buildings, developing shade trees, and other community improvements and needs,” commented Weber.
“When in Amish Country it is worth taking the time to explore Winesburg. It is one of those towns where you feel like you took a step back in time. With Whitmer’s General Store, Winesburg Antiques, Time & Treasure Trove shop, and the Bicycle Museum it is hard not to feel a bit of nostalgia,” said Holmes County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau’s Bonnie Coblentz. “Relaxing on the long covered porch at Grapevine House B&B and watching the world go by would be the perfect ending to a day of shopping in Amish Country!”
The little town is rich in historical connections, according to Weber, who is obviously proud of all that Winesburg has to offer. She noted that Winesburg has connections to famous people, including William McKinley, President Harding, George Washington, William Penn, and John D. Rockefeller.
“Winesburg is a beautiful slice of Americana,” stated Shasta Mast, executive director of the Holmes County Tourism Bureau. “Its historic, picturesque storefronts and homes serve as the perfect backdrop for a fall festival.”
Make it a point to spend a day in Winesburg and celebrate the beautiful autumn season during the Winesburg Fall Gathering, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 15.