For the past two years, predictions that we will soon be back to normal post-COVID have fallen more flat than cryptocurrency.
But I have proof that South Jersey County is getting back to normal, and it’s not just that the mask mandate for school children is going to be lifted in March.
Four popular festivals return after a two-year COVID-related hiatus: Lines on the Pines in March, the Cumberland County Fair in early July, the Burlington County Agricultural Fair in late July, and the Chatsworth Cranberry Festival in October.
How we missed you.
If you’ve never been to Lines on the Pines, you have to go. It’s all Piney, located on the beautiful Stockton campus. There are homemade crafts and local writers selling books about the pines and their traditions. They also tell great stories, like the woman who told me she knew there was evidence the Jersey Devil is real.
She told me that a plaster cast of the cloven hoofs from the fantasy had been stored in a vault in the old Watchcase Building in Riverside, but had recently been discarded. The casting had been done by a zoologist from the Smithsonian Institution, summoned to Burlington in the winter of 1909, amid a string of devil sightings that spooked locals.
I looked inside, rummaging through old newspapers. Sure enough, a Smithsonian official had come to South Jersey and made plaster casts of what were claimed to be JD’s hoof prints (as Piney sometimes calls him the Jersey Devil). The Smithsonian guy told the press that whatever made the prints was a “relic” from the Jurassic period.
But there are also guys like Mike Familant, who I met at Lines on the Pines in 2018. He’s a Bigfoot Hunter or “Squatcher” as they call themselves. He has a YouTube show called “In the Shadow of the Big Red Eye”. He told me he believed Bigfoot roamed the Pines and all sightings confused JD with BF.
He had a plaster cast of an alleged footprint of Bigfoot in the pines.
It’s the local traditions and interesting people that make Lines on the Pines worth your day in Stockton. Mark your calendar, It’s Sunday March 13.
I can’t wait to attend the Cumberland County Fair, which I’ve never been to. Looking at the pictures, it looks fun. I know the Burlington County Fair much better since I reported on it for the local paper, which in turn made me take my kids. These pieces got noticed and I was asked to judge the pie and cookie recipe contests. I’m not bragging here, but Loretta Palmer, who chairs the Home Arts Tent (showcasing baked goods, quilts, and other crafts) invited me and my colleague Phil Gianficaro to judge pies and cookies this year.
The Burlington Fair kicks off with a parade of tractors, and at the county fairgrounds, every conceivable country fun, from goats and rabbits at the 4H Club, halfway through with rides, to food exhibits and old farm equipment. There are also pig races. I am one of many local journalists who over the years have covered the glitz and pageantry of pig racing. Lots of fun.
The completion of the year at harvest is the Chatsworth Cranberry Festival, October 15-16. The Chatsworth Festival Committee told me in an email: “We are planning to have the festival this year!”
One of the best emails I’ve received in the past two years.
Cranfest as it is called is my favorite as fall is my favorite season. Hot corn, homemade soap, bags of fresh South Jersey cranberries to keep frozen until Thanksgiving. If it’s a crunchy day, nothing tastes better than a cup of chowder and a sausage and peppercorn sandwich. There’s music, line dancing and crafts and hopefully Buzby’s General Store will be open.
The late Marilyn Schmidt bought and renovated the historic store where, in the 1960s, author John McPhee quietly observed locals going in and out of the place while chronicling the locals, traditions and geography . The store is open and you can sit on the same steam heater where McPhee became a staple as he chatted with people for his 1967 feature film for The New Yorker, later turned into a book, “The Pine Barrens”. (A good summer read, by the way).
There are also cranberry bog tours. They’re not cheap, but worth a visit, especially if it’s a gem of an October morning. Scarlet berries float and the autumn sky is reflected in the bog. I know it’s just cranberries, but it’s beautiful. Grab your best camera and be ready to upload to social media. Your friends will want to be you.
Of course, right now it’s the dead of winter, some are still bickering about the pandemic, and spring seems a long way off. We’re exhausted and haven’t even reached Lent yet. Hang on. A good year is shaping up for South Jersey.
Columnist JD Mullane can be reached at 215-949-5745 or [email protected]