04/27/14 — Dill-ightful afternoon

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Dill-ightful afternoon

By Josh Ellerbrock
Published in News on April 27, 2014 1:50 AM

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Benjamin Stanton, 18 months, reacts to the animals in the petting zoo area during the North Carolina Pickle Festival in Mount Olive Saturday. Benjamin and his family traveled from Greenville to attend the festival. Thousands of people gathered during the sun-filled afternoon to enjoy everything from children's games and food to the star of the day -- pickles.

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Dean, left, and Moses King share a funnel cake during the festival. Food is one of the main attractions of the day, with funnel cakes, sausage dogs and turkey legs at the top of the menu. The Kings, who live in Mount Olive, have been married 58 years and are regular attendees.

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The North Carolina Pickle Festival drew thousands of people to the streets of downtown Mount Olive on Saturday as a sunny warm day made festival-going a treat. Attendees came from across the state and even from out of state to sample the food, crafts, games, music and car show.

MOUNT OLIVE -- Katie and Carli were on the lookout for a giant smiling pickle Saturday afternoon.

They had seen the standard size and had even eaten some, but there was one pickle they hoped to shake hands with.

What 6-year-old doesn't want to meet Ollie Q. Cumber, the Mt. Olive Pickle Co.'s towering mascot?

"They seem to be having a great time," their mother, April Smith, said.

Meanwhile, the girls were chomping on strawberries -- fruit which hasn't come into season quite yet where the Smiths were from.

The Smiths drove for more than four hours from their home in Granite Falls for the unique 28th annual North Carolina Pickle Festival on Saturday, and from what they had seen that afternoon, the drive had been worth it.

"We just decided we should come," Mrs. Smith said. "The kids are out of school. They love pickles. Why not?"

After taking with the News-Argus they resumed their search for Ollie.

The Smiths -- April, husband Davis, Katie, Carli and niece Jamie -- were among the tens of thousands of people of all ages that packed downtown Mount Olive on Saturday to experience the unique celebration.

For festival co-Chairman Julie Beck, the 28th annual edition of the Pickle Festival not surprisingly ended up being another success.

"The crowd didn't feel as tight as last year, but (activities) were spread out more," she said. "I can't complain. We had great weather, a large car show and very diverse entertainment.

"It's good to see all the planning come to fruition. It's good to see it worked like it was supposed to."

Ms. Beck also thanked the partnerships and sponsors for helping make the Pickle Festival another success.

"It was 'dill-lightful,'" she said.

Ms. Beck said the attractions that draw people every year are the Wayne County Cruisers Car Show and Circus Stella, an acrobatic couple that performs with their pet dogs.

Overall, Ms. Beck said she was happy with how the festival turned out. Like any large event, there was both good and bad, such as late performances or vendors without their needed resources, but there was no serious problems or injuries, she said.

Parking was as sought after as the pickles as visitors parked in every available slot near downtown. Some paid to park and in doing so helped out with local fundraisers.

Others chose to avoid the parking headache altogether and park at the University of Mount Olive and take advantage of the free shuttle service.

From special activities to more standard festival rides, vendor booths and live music, the award-winning festival has become a mainstay event in Mount Olive and Wayne County for the last 28 years as it attracts individuals from across the state and even out of state.

And the festival wouldn't be complete without the free Mt. Olive pickles.

Helping make the festival such a success are unique events like the 55 Challenge in which professional and amateur eaters wowed the crowd with gastronomic feats as they attempted to wolf down a 55-ounce cheeseburger, an order of fries and a 24-ounce soft drink in under four minutes.

New this year was the Buddy's Bridal Cake Dive.

Dressed in wedding attire, 10 women dove into a huge cake and literally tore it apart to find a token shaped like a diamond.

The winner took home a diamond ring.

There was so much entertainment that it took three stages strategically placed throughout the downtown area to hold it. There were bands, singers, dancers and, of course, members of the Pickle Princess Court.

An appearance by Goldsboro's own American Idol Majesty Rose had people waiting in line for autographed photos and a chance to have their photo taken with her.

For the second year in a row, one of the signature events of the day was a naturalization ceremony in which some 60 people came to the festival as immigrants, but went home as newly minted citizens of the U.S.

The final act on that stage was an exhibition by Native Americans.

There was no shortage of activities and events for children, including animals.

For the early-risers, there was the Cuke Patch 5K road run or the Tour de Pickle bike ride.

Friday night's attendance at the concert at the town's airport was down as storms blew through earlier in the day and continued to threaten through the evening. The weather also was blamed for fewer people showing up for the downtown carnival rides Friday night.

One event remains on tap -- the Pickle Festival Praise and Worship Service, featuring the University of Mount Olive's Free Spirit. Presented by the Mount Olive Ministerial Association, it will be held today at 6 p.m. at the Mount Olive First Pentecostal Holiness Church.

Local organizations use the festival as a fundraiser -- selling everything from food and homemade goodies to tickets for large-screen televisions.

Vendors of food, crafts and otherwise also get on in the action.

"They had long lines all day long," Ms. Beck said.

Locals use the festival as a special outing each year where they see friends rarely seen in daily life.

As for the larger business community, the festival serves as a shot of investment and one very large advertising opportunity.

For example, out-of-towners, like the Smiths get to see the town, which Mrs. Smith described as "really quaint."

Others use the festival for simpler reasons.

Aiden Bowen and his 18-month-old sister, Lilian, used the festival to ride a camel. The 5-year-old described the experience as both "cool" and "bumpy."

Their mother, Lynette Bowen, shared the same sentiments.

"It was bumpy. I don't know if I could ride it without the harness," she said.

The Bowens rode the camel after riding two and a half hours in a car from Perquimans County in northeast North Carolina.

Their camel experience did not convince them to trade in the family car. Mrs. Bowens said that having a camel would probably cost a lot of peanuts to get anywhere.

The group decided to visit the festival in the late afternoon to get some free pickles. Aiden likes the snack so much that he can sometimes be found drinking the juice out of the jar, his mother said.

The Pickle Festival, however, didn't only draw pickle-interested families. Some individuals used the festival as a place to show off their skills.

B.G. Mitchell and his wife, Cheryl, like to show off their classic car during the Pickle Festival.

The Wayne County Cruisers Car Show at the festival brought in 150 glinting high-powered machines this year. Mitchell's 1970 Plymouth Roadrunner was included.

The Mitchells, of Dudley, try to go to car shows every weekend outward from a 50-mile radius.

Mitchell said he remembers growing up with the old models, and when he got the chance to purchase another Roadrunner like he had in his yesteryears, he took the chance. It has since become a labor of love.

He's updated the engine compartment, the dash and the trunk department for car shows, and he's won a few awards each year.

And he gets a few memories in return.

"I meet so many friends, a tremendous amount of friends," he said.