Despite rainy skies overhead, thousands of visitors flocked to Georgetown on Thursday for the 2014 Return Day, Delaware's most unique and anticipated biannual celebration.
Despite rainy skies overhead, thousands of visitors flocked to Georgetown on Thursday for the 2014 Return Day, Delaware’s most unique and anticipated biannual celebration.
The day kicked off with the customary hatchet toss contest between local mayors. Four mayors competed in the competition this year, including Georgetown Mayor Bill West, Seaford Mayor David Genshaw, Dagsboro Mayor Brad Connor and Bridgeville Commission President Patricia Correll.
Genshaw went on to win the competition after a tie-breaking throw between him and West.
Return Day attendees had more than a dozen food vendors to choose from while waiting for the parade to start, including local favorites, such as 16 Mile Brewing and Vinny’s Pizza. Next to the food booths, the west side of The Circle was crowded with dozens of local artists and vendors, who were selling a variety of items ranging from homemade dog bandanas to T-shirts.
Finally, the Georgetown Fire Hall siren blared at 1:30 p.m. to indicate the start of the parade and spectators crowded the sidewalk to catch a glimpse of the procession, which was led by Delaware State Police.
Not far behind came the traditional horse-drawn carriage processional of political candidates from the Nov. 4 general election, including Gov. Jack Markell, Attorney General Beau Biden, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons and U.S. Rep. John Carney.
State Rep. Ruth Briggs King (R-Georgetown) and her Democrat opponent Paulette Rappa reflected the spirit of Return Day by sitting side-by-side in their carriage.
Other Sussex County elected officials who joined the parade included Sussex County Council District 5 councilman-elect Rob Arlett, Sussex County Register of Wills Cynthia Green and Sussex County Sheriff-elect Robert Lee.
Current Sussex County Sheriff Jeffery Christopher and Ronald “Beau” Gooch, who challenged Lee in Tuesday’s election, proudly marched in the parade as well.
Even local politicians had the chance to revel in the excitement, such as Georgetown Mayor Bill West who said he was excited to travel in the parade for the first time as mayor.
“I’m just ecstatic,” he said, noting that his favorite part was simply seeing all of the visitors smiling and enjoying the day. “I couldn’t be happier.”
Beyond the political candidates, the parade also included Miss Delaware 2014 Brittany Lewis, Little Miss Sussex County Haley Rogers and marching bands from Delaware State University, Sussex Technical High School, Sussex Central High School, Cape Henlopen High School and Delmar High School.
Immediately following the parade, WBOC-TV’s Steve Hammond lead the ceremony on The Circle.
“Return Day is about burying the hatchet, both literally and figuratively,” he said.
Kirk Lawson read the election returns from the balcony of the Sussex County Courthouse as the crowd cheered for each race. On stage, the election winners shook hands with their opponents.
Finally, the crowd watched as representatives from each of Sussex County’s political parties participated in a ceremonial burying of a hatchet.
Republican Party Chairman John Rieley, Democratic Party Chairman Mitch Crane, Independent Party Chairman Wolfgang Von Baumgart and Libertarian Party Chairman David Eisenhour joined in the fun, using sand from Lewes, where the original Return Day was held so many years ago.
As the day came to a close, the traditional ox was served up to guests free of charge. It was a crowd favorite and the meat quickly ran out before every guest could snag a bite.
Return Day Committee chairwoman Rosalie Walls deemed the day a success despite the rain.
“The rain definitely caused some issues this morning,” she said. “We had a few people in the parade drop so it was definitely a lot shorter than usual. But it all went well.”
Walls, who has long planned the event, said she hopes to come back for another Return Day.
“We will see,” she said. “It’s two years from now so it all depends on my health and what I am doing.”
In the end, Return Day 2014 overcame a rainy forecast and offered a day of fun for both local residents and out-of-town visitors.
“It’s been a wonderful afternoon,” said Return Day attendee and Bethany Beach resident Michael Wilgus. “I got to see a lot of people I haven’t seen in a while, and it’s great to see all of the candidates shaking hands. It’s been a great day.”