Jim Thorpe bustles with activity during WinterFest
VICTOR IZZO/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Brian Ruth of "Masters of the Chainsaw" has wood chips flying as he carves another work of art from logs in front of the Mauch Chunk Opera House on Broadway.
With foot traffic on the sidewalks of downtown Jim Thorpe looking more like a summer weekend than February, the Jim Thorpe Chamber of Commerce's 17th Annual WinterFest Weekend drew many hundreds of visitors to the town over this past President's Day Weekend.
In spite of stiff, biting, winter winds for half of the weekend, the streets, shops, and businesses of the downtown area bustled with activity reminiscent of a Summertime event.
There was something of interest for everyone, including both ice and wood carving demonstrations, Civil War re-enactors, horse-drawn carriage rides, strolling musicians, the Jim Thorpe Mug Walk, and in the evenings, live entertainment at the Mauch Chunk Opera House.
"Overwhelming" ! - That's how WinterFest co-coordinator Mike Guy described the turnout at this year's event, adding that "it was much better than we could have anticipated, its just great."
He went on to say that "the weather was with us even though it's a little windy, its bringing people out of their cabin fever."
Guy added that "the Mug Walk is going over great and we're very, very happy with the festival's success."
In addition to Mike Guy, Dan Hugos has also been instrumental in organizing the 2011 WinterFest celebration.
One special highlight for the youngsters present in town was the smashing of candy-filled Sponge Bob Squarepants pinatas each day in Josiah White Park.
The ice and wood carving demonstrations took place in both Josiah White Park and in front of the Mauch Chunk Opera House with both locations including a wide variety of sculptures.
Another popular event with the visitors was the Chamber of Commerce's fundraiser Mug Walk during which, for the price of a $10 Jim Thorpe mug, visitors could look for signs which indicated participating shops and stores that would fill those mugs with something free, including cookies, soup, coffee and other surprises.
The Mug Walk was so well received, that the many mugs available were eventually all sold out.
The ice sculptors were from "Sculpted Ice Works" in Lakeville, near Lake Wallenpaupack, while the wood sculptor was Brian Ruth of "Masters of the Chainsaw", All the participants received the praises of the visitors for their outstanding works of art.
In addition, on Saturday, music filled the air on Broadway as the Faculty Brass, a Lehighton-based quartet playing tunes of all genres from marches and polkas to recent pop tunes strolled up and down the thoroughfare .
Also popular with visitors were the Civil War re-enactors of the 69th Pennsylvania Irish Volunteers who put on a living-history display both days.
The 69th was the only Pennsylvania regiment to carry the green Irish flag into battle. This Battle Flag was given to the regiment by the people of the city of Philadelphia.
The regiment was recruited from Philadelphia Irish militia companies of the 2nd Regiment, Pennsylvania Militia and was mustered into service on August 19, 1861.
Its first action was at the Battle of Balls Bluff and the 69th also served in the Peninsula Campaign, during which it was complimented by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker for making "the first successful bayonet charge of the war".
The unit played a large role at the Battle of Gettysburg, helping repel both Brig. Gen. Ambrose Wright's charge on July 2 and Pickett's Charge on July 3.
Its casualties over the last two days of the battle were enormous, losing 143 men out of 258, including its colonel, lieutenant colonel, two captains, and a lieutenant.
The regiment's ranking officer, Maj. Duffy, was seriously wounded but refused to give up command until the battle was over.
This and other related information about the group is available on their website at www.pa69thpvi.org.
Each day's events wrapped up with the live entertainment at the Mauch Chunk Opera House.
On Saturday evening audiences were treated to two bands from Philadelphia and Bethlehem respectively, The Ben Arnold Band and special guests The Billy Bauer Band.
On Sunday evening a classical performance was presented by Lehigh University pianist Helen Beedle performing 19th-century classical salon music with unique musicianship and flair and she was accompanied by the acclaimed Jari Villanueva on Cornet.