MCCLURE — In the McClure Bean Soup Festival and Fair’s nearly 130-year history, it was canceled only once in 1918 — because of the Spanish Flu pandemic. This year, the coronavirus outbreak threatened to cancel it a second time but fair officials worked to develop a modified schedule that has allowed the beloved event to go on.
The fair began on Sunday and will continue through Saturday, and will open Thursday and Friday at 4 p.m., and at noon on Saturday. Bean soup — the namesake of the fair — will be available throughout each day. It is free admission to the event, which also includes free nightly entertainment. Paid parking is available for a nominal fee and supports local organizations.
Veterans of the Civil War from McClure and surrounding communities held reunions following the war, which at times included observing bean soup festivals. In 1891, a Bean Soup Celebration was opened for the public to enjoy a real Civil War bean soup dinner. Today, the soup continues to be made in large iron kettles over a wood-fire battery of furnaces. The festival eventually grew to include amusement rides, concessions, displays, parade, nightly entertainment and Civil War reenactments. The festival was officially named a Pennsylvania State Fair in 2008, with a focus on Pennsylvania’s agriculture.
But the main focus continues to be on its foundation to honor veterans.
“All of us at the fair are very proud of our living memorial to the Civil War, and we want to keep honoring all veterans, our true heroes,” said Jennifer Shawver, vice president of the fair committee. “It’s all about keeping traditions alive that started in 1891. I feel that the history and the sacrifices from our veterans should not be forgotten.”
According to Adam Ewig, vendor coordinator, fair officials were at first apprehensive about opening the fair due to the pandemic and associated restrictions, but were committed to strategizing ways to keep it going this year.
“Having attended (a couple) other fairs, seeing how things worked, gave us a better grasp of how we could do it safely,” he said. That includes hand sanitizers provided throughout the fairgrounds, and social distancing being encouraged in seating and serving line areas, spacing out vendor spots, and limiting capacity in the exhibit hall. Masks are also recommended.
The fair committee has also decided not to offer amusement rides this year, or its baked good exhibit and contest.
“We are not as big as some fairs, but have plenty of space to social distance,” Shawver said. “And we feel we have taken every safety precaution recommended using CDC guidelines to be able to provide a safe outlet for those looking to get out and have something to do outdoors.
“There are quite a few modifications this year,” she added, “but we are making the best of it for our community and our vendors.”
Earlier this week, the fair held its annual pageant. Dakota Kreis was crowned Fair Princess with runner-up Caleigh Smith; Little Miss was Alexis Smith, with runner-up Amarah Mulaney; Teeny Bean was Lillian Kratzer, with runner-up Trinity Marks.
Monday was Veteran’s Day, and Tuesday was Parade Day — which looked a little different from previous years. Ewig said the route had to be changed to borough roads, as state CDC recommendations did not allow them to operate the parade on the state road.
A cruise-in was featured on Wednesday, Senior Citizens Day.
Thursday is Horticulture Day at the fair, and will include entertainment by Hawkshaw Hawkins, Jr. at 7 and 9 p.m.
Friday, Youth Day, will feature a cornhole tournament and entertainment by Best Friends Girl at 7 and 9 p.m.
Saturday, Homecoming Day, will feature farmyard games such as haybale throwing and corn shelling, and a Powerwheels race for ages 2 and 3. Entertainment will be by Ole 97, a Johnny Cash and June Carter tribute band at 7 and 9 p.m.
Among other attractions, a dinosaur show is held each night, which includes a puppet show and a museum of artifacts, and a Tyrannosaurus Rex which “comes to life,” Ewig said.
Vendors at the fair each day include several local organizations, and a variety of fair foods, including a crowd favorite, Cogan’s Concessions’ sugar waffles.
Ewig has been involved with the fair for three years now, and said he especially loves the history behind it.
“It’s cool that almost 130 years ago this was started, and it’s still a tradition today,” he said, adding that he also likes to see McClure Borough get some attention.
“We’re a small community,” he said. “It’s one way for our little area to gain notoriety, it puts us on the map so to speak.”
For more information on the festival, visit mcclurebeansoupfair.com or the McClure Bean Soup Festival and Fair Facebook page.