Community, friendship and family. The four-day Independence Day celebration in Granville is a homecoming event that exudes the qualities of a Norman Rockwell painting.
It’s visible on the faces of wide-eyed children lined up for the ferris wheel, Zero Gravity and Tubs of Fun rides. You can see it in the way people volunteer to set up tents, serve food, sit in a dunk tank for charity, direct traffic, pick up trash and even clean up goo on the street after the annual egg toss.
And it was on display in a big way along Broadway this year during the Mile Long Parade, when thousands of people showed up from across the county and beyond to see old friends, listen to marching bands and give a shout out to former high-school classmates.
As Friday’s heat rolled in, the village’s main street had been transformed from business district to festival scene: A ferris wheel the height of a nearby church steeple marked the west end of the midway on Broadway and a classic carousel with painted horses, zebra and reindeer dotted the other end two blocks east.
Standing nearly as tall as the ferris wheel, a wavy sliding board drew long lines of children eager to zip down the chute to their awaiting parents. Close to the stage where the country-rock band McGuffey Lane played on Saturday night, food stands supplied hot, crispy funnel cakes and icy lemonade for the crowds.
The Granville Kiwanis have organized the annual event for 60 years. President Val Metula said there are a few special ingredients needed for a great Fourth of July. “One of them is weather, and you can’t ask for much better weather than this,” said Metula, who joined Kiwanis in 2014.
It was 85 degrees and sunny as he spoke, and it stayed that way or a little warmer for most of the weekend – other than a brief downpour that ended just before the fireworks went off on Friday night.
“We always appreciate the support we get from (Bates Brothers Amusements of eastern Ohio), and we get the full support of the village, the police department, the fire department and even sanitation and so forth,” Metula said. He also noted the importance of good entertainment, which this year included Conspiracy Band on Friday, McGuffey Lane on Saturday, and Barefoot McCoy and Friends on Sunday night.
The weekend kicked off with music and fireworks at Wildwood Park. Families who arrived early for music starting at 8 p.m. dove under blankets and tarps when clouds opened up. The rain poured for a solid half hour, and then, as quickly as it began, the rain eased and drenched families came out from under cover for more music and a dazzling fireworks show.
“The people who were there said, ‘I think we might get wet and we don’t care,’’’ Metula said. At first, he said, he was nervous about the cloudburst’s potential to drown out the fireworks, but the storm came and went at a perfect time. In fact, it brought people together. “We’ve never had a Woodstock-style mosh pit before,” Metula joked.
After a weekend of fun on the midway, there was much more to come on Monday, the Fourth of July. The Mile Long Parade began at 10:45 a.m., but an early walk along Broadway would show that parade-viewing is taken so seriously that by 9 a.m., hundreds of people on tarps and lawn chairs lined the street, many enjoying a picnic breakfast in the shade.
The Granville Kiwanis met soon after dawn on Monday to coordinate the final day of the celebration. There, Cassie McKee and Debbie Thomas reviewed the criteria for parade float judging. Both have lived in Granville for 29 years, and this was their second year of judging the meticulously decorated floats.
They evaluated floats based on factors such as title and theme, animation and special effects, public appeal and creativity. The parade’s theme this year was “Create a Better Future.” One overall winner earns the Ike Fuller Award, and this year, Granville Milling Company won that award with a farm “to feed the future” float.
“We go down there and we get to talk to people and get to know the community,” McKee said of the judging process. “It’s really a fun time.” Thomas also noted that the competition can vary year to year, and Granville neighborhoods sometimes have a healthy rivalry in pursuit of the top prize.
As parade participants dressed in cardboard tacos danced down the street, and Granville High School graduates from as far back as 1952 cheered from trucks and trailers, people on floats tossed candy to kids who raced to pick up the goodies.
Local politicians riding in pickup trucks waved to voters, and the requisite shiny, old cars and tractors were sprinkled between commercial floats and the 4-H Band and the Granville High School Marching Band. The parade ended at lunchtime, allowing families to fuel up at a midway filled with French fries, hot Italian sandwiches and lemon shake-ups before the next big event: the Games for All Ages.
This year, expert sack racers hopped down Broadway, jumping their way to blue, red or white ribbons. Four-year-olds attempted to complete an amazing feat of coordination in the three-legged race, and herds of people 13 and older sprinted in the egg carry. Spoiler alert: Many eggs were scrambled on the pavement before making it to the finish line on the spoon.
The finale was the egg toss, which drew the largest crowd of all. Dozens of pairs of skilled egg tossers lined up in hopes of becoming the 2022 champions in a highly competitive event that has been held for decades.
It came down to two pairs who hurdled the eggs over a distance of about 40 feet, catching it with “soft hands,” as the experts say. Runners-up Cory Becher and Jimmy Hoben saw their egg and their hopes crushed when the distance and height it traveled proved too much for even soft hands.
“Our family has been doing this since I’ve been born,” Becher said. “It’s just generation after generation.” Becher has made a comeback from tearing his achilles in the sack race a few years ago. He is an assistant football coach at Granville High School, where he graduated in 2009, and he also works for the Granville Recreation District.
“It’s always a great event,” Becher said, adding that he has used science to improve the egg-toss strategy.
“In the fifth grade, I did a science fair project studying whether a shaken egg versus an unshaken egg held up better. So I would drop it from different heights and measure the breakage.”
He learned that if you shake an egg, it will hold up better under pressure, and he shared that finding with participants who were violently shaking their eggs at the starting line.
Becher explained that family plays a big part in the competition. “We’re all from the Reding (family) branch,” he said, explaining his connection to his cousin, Hoben. “It’s been four generations of us coming together and playing games. It’s always been a fun tradition.”
The youngest of the Reding family won first place in the egg toss. She danced in celebration of her victory.
As Monday came to a close, egg splats dotted Broadway in front of the stage and the heat subsided.
Recreation District Executive Director Andy Wildman had noted during the Games For All Ages that there’s something very special about the Fourth of July weekend in Granville. The efforts of the Granville Kiwanis and many others bring families together.
Over the screams of children squeezing in one last ride and the sound of an instructor teaching a line dance on Broadway, Metula said, “It’s almost like a town reunion, you know?
“This is like a community reunion, and you find people coming back for it over and over.”