By Gary Grossman
The Associated Press
By the mid to late ‘90s, the contest for “Miss Crustcean” had acquired a retro feel.
It was mildly uncomfortable to see teens parade self-consciously in high heels and scant swim attire through the school auditorium on the eve of the annul Crab Derby in Crisfield — Maryland’s southernmost city on the Eastern Shore.
It seemed like a ritual from bygone days because it was.
Originally, the pageant selected Miss Crisfield, to reign over the three-day Chesapeake Bay Fishing Fair, which had achieved statewide status in 1950. But Egbert L. Queen, editor of the Chrisfield Times, had insisted upon referring to the winner as “Miss Crustacean”, a title the editor thought better personified the derby.
The power of the press being what it was in Howdy Doody times, the title stuck. It became official in 1951.
At first, a few watermen had entered their swiftest hard shell crabs in a more or less sideways race on the street in front of the post office. Now, on Labor Day weekends, visitors can see some 400 blue crabs compete in heats on a slick flat trap at the Somers Cove Marina.
Elsewhere during the festival, the shore’s fastest crab pickers, who seemed to be mainly female, go womano-a-womano in the center of the arena in side-by-side chairs, tearing, scraping and tossing buckets of crabs at a furious pace to see who can stack the heaviest pile of crabmeat (judged to be sufficiently shell free) in a timed event.
In the category of entertainment without electricity, the Crab Derby was a standout. Other featured events at assorted festivals on the Eastern Shore included high speed boat docking on Taylors Island, dog diving in Nanticoke, the Great North American Turtle Race in Bivalve and an annual Skip Jack race that looked more like a drift on the bay.
Wander the world of community newspapers long enough and you will see people worship berries, dance for onions, fiddle through an afternoon, paddle a cardboard boat or lollygag near pup tents wearing woolen uniforms in July.
This festival season, we have covered people running uphill in Mifflinburg, bed races in Beaver Springs, patriots on parade in Lewisburg, the celebration of Danville’s iron Heritage, libations of grape and barley in Selinsgrove and fireworks in Sunbury. River Festival is coming up Aug. 15-17. A Red Cross Hangar Dance follows Sept. 20.
Further down the calendar, the authentic and fascinating Warrior Run/Fort Freeland Heritage Days in October promises, “Three hundred costumed crafters, tradesmen and instructors demonstrating our colonial history.”
The newspaper’s heavy-duty promotion for the River Festival is already underway as we partner with Sunbury Broadcasting and Sunbury Revitalization, Inc. for that event. Slade Shreck from the newspaper, Mark Lawrence from the radio and Mel Purdy and Meghan Beck of SRI are driving the event.
SRI tries to freshen River Fest’s offerings every year. In addition to great entertainment and food, this year will feature the ever-popular train rides, the cardboard regatta and another round of the Valley’s Got Talent. A pair of former American Idol contestants have been booked for the event.
One common goal for all events is to raise enough interest and money to retire expenses, support some worthy cause and be encouraged a repeat the performance next year.
There are a few home runs in the Valley — events and festivals that accommodate a limited audience with hot tickets that are pricey enough to cover the essentials. Selinsgrove’s wine and brew event has achieved that status in recent years.
Without naming names, however, some other community events from the treasury of the familiar might benefit from a fresh look and different spin.
From a person who hasn’t seen it all, but has been a witness to more than most . . .
All in all, the scatter shot approach with a lot of little, unrelated diversions seems to wear out sooner than the festival that has a signature focus. Try for a theme that is reliably good on its own because the overarching idea is engaging, and, yet, different people can participate year after year for generations and maybe walk away with a nifty prize.
n Gary Grossman is the publisher of The Daily Item and The Danville News.