SALEM – People – plenty of people – politicians and pooches packed Olde Salem Days on Sept. 8, parading up and down the Main Street and adjacent ones until a fast-moving wind storm airlifted canopies, crafts and signs and sent shoppers and vendors scurrying.
City of Salem officials made the decision to ask vendors to close down 90 minutes early to prevent injuries from flying objects.
Local Boy Scouts, members of the sponsoring Rotary Club of Salem and Salem Parks and Recreation and other city employees helped vendors drop tents, retrieve several that took flight, and gather up scattered jewelry and other crafts. Salem City Manager Kevin Boggess said when the storm hit about 3:15 p.m., one pottery vendor’s shelf toppled, smashing the handmade items.
Some crowd estimates were as high as 70,000 people. No one really knows, but people were packed shoulder-to-shoulder from morning through early afternoon. The multitudes came for the crafts, the music, food in the food court and in the Salem Farmers’ Market. The latter included homemade cinnamon rolls, corn cobb jelly, fried pies and tenderloin biscuits from market vendors.
For many folks, like Betsy Deyerle Light and her husband, Wayne, of Salem, going to Olde Salem Days is something they look forward to every year. “It’s a tradition. We’ve been almost every year since the inception of Olde Salem Days 32 years ago,” she said. “We missed one or two because of vacation, but one year we zipped through before leaving town.”
She added, “I like to look for unique items, particularly apparel and jewelry, like this acorn necklace I bought,” said Betsy, showing off the acorn-shaped bead work she was wearing. “I like to look at the food items, like the fried apple pies and homemade pickles,” her husband added.
Janet Jennings of Lafayette in Montgomery County selected apple and peach fried pies made by Lucy Clark, whose mouthwatering sign proclaimed “Granny’s Homemade Pies.” “She made 90 fried pies,” said husband Wayne Clark. “She’s been cooking all week.” They formerly ran the Glenvar Mini Mart that their daughter now operates.
Like proper Virginia Tech fans, 9-month-old Gabriella DeHaven and James Robert, the 5-month-old grandson of Carolyne Dudding, were decked out in Hokie finery to cheer on their families’ favorite team later that day. Gabriella was with her mom, Jennifer DeHaven of Cloverdale, grandma Janie Entsminger and aunt, Sarah Entsminger.
Caitlin McGuire, who is almost 8, was with her grandmother, Joyce McGuire of Christiansburg, looking at decorative painted metal birdhouses.
Nearby, Roanoke College student Kelly Dever from Houston, Texas, admired left-handed and right-handed wooden spoons made by Jonathan Morel of Connecticut. Morel, whose bushy, winged eyebrows resemble those in some of his face carvings, is teaching a short class at Roanoke College for several weeks.
Both Republican and Democratic candidates and representatives greeted people in the street. Susan Allen, wife of Republican U.S. Senate candidate George Allen, passed out literature in front of Ninth District Congressman Morgan Griffith’s office. Because political parties were not allowed to rent tents along Main Street this year, Republicans worked out of Griffith’s office and Democrat set up a canopy in the parking lot of Charlotte’s Web Antique Mall.
Griffith’s Democratic challenger, Anthony Flaccavento of Abingdon, spent several hours at the festival, including talking about agricultural issues with Sedulous Seed breadmaker Rita Burge at the Salem Farmers’ Market.
Dozens of people stood in line outside a nearby storefront opened by the National Rifle Association to get bright orange fans that proclaimed “Defend Freedom. Defeat Obama.”
One who didn’t agree was Dan Entingh of Roanoke who used markers to touch up one of the fans to make it say “Re(e)lect Obama. Defend Freedom.”
Perhaps those who came from farthest away were visitors from Haiti. They were Father Rene Blot, the new priest of a sister parish in Haiti twinned with Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Salem, and Sister Luce Damus. They were at Olde Salem Days with Yves St. Jean, who relocated from Haiti to Salem, and Dr. Tom Fame of Salem who supports Haitian schools and mission work.
Later that evening they were to be at OLPH where Father Blot was to say Mass, with a translation, and there would be a Haitian meal in their honor.
NOTE: this article was corrected from the Sept. 13 print issue, for the correct spelling of Betsy Deyerle Light’s name, and that it was the NRA that handed out the orange signs, bumper stickers and fans reading “Defend Freedom. Defeat Obama.”