Every town, all across America, is known for “something”. Bigger cities, for example, have nicknames that are known worldwide-New York City is the Big Apple, Chicago is the Windy City, but its the little rural towns that make up the heart of the U.S. My little town of Vermilion, Ohio is known as the Woollybear Capital of the World. Outside of Vermilion, maybe even as far as Northeastern Ohio, many don’t even know what a woollybear is. But every year in late September or early October this furry, fuzzy little caterpillar has a whole day dedicated to honoring him.
In the olden days, even before my grandparents time (they’ll love to hear that!), farmers would gauge how rough the winter in the Great Lakes region would be, by studying the brown stripes compared to the orange stripes on one of these fuzzy little critters. I have no idea which way meant heavier or lighter winters (recalling my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Lapp’s, woollybear story. I think longer brown stripes means a rougher winter, but not positive) I do know that every fall these cute little guys can be seen slinking across any hiking trail as long as the sun’s out. You can’t help but want to pick one up & watch it curl into a ball in your hand. Not to many insects would I consider “cute”, but woollybear’s are soft & fuzzy…perfect combination of cute.
The Woollybear festival & parade was started in the early 1970’s by Cleveland weatherman, Dick Goddard, who still heads up the festivities to this day. It’s a one day festival (the biggest in Ohio) complete with a 2-hour long parade. This one day event turns my little town of 15,000 (give or take) into a circus of 100,000.
Now I really don’t know much about what actually happens down at Victory Park-the festival location, in fact I probably haven’t been down to the actual festival in 3 years or so. The Woollybear weekend consumes Vermilion with bike races, 3k/5k events, and the day of the Woollybear festival hosts woollybear costume contests, pet parades, & woollybear races (which people enter their pet caterpillar’s to race one another…something I’m totally against, but that’s saved for another blog!). Woollybear Sunday is something I look forward to every year. Not because of the hoopla of the events, but because it’s the one time a year that is a guaranteed opportunity to spend time with extended family & friends.
My grandparents live on the parade route, so naturally their house is a meeting point of Woollybear goers. With the exception of one year, my grandparents have always hosted a Woollybear cookout, that’s 30+ woollybear’s!!! I have so many memories of Woollybear Sunday’s spent on a blanket (lawn chairs as the years & I aged) in front of their house watching the parade. Looking back on pictures taken on Woollybear, the hairstyles & clothing of guests have changed, but the people are still the same. Eating hot dogs, drinking hot chocolate (on the colder Sunday’s), smiling, hugging,& just happy being together. Great aunts & uncles, 2nd, 3rd, & sometimes 4th cousins, all show up for the cookout. Some being relatives you haven’t seen since the previous year’s Woollybear. People walking by on their way to their own cookout, or to head down to the festival, are oftentimes old friends that you haven’t seen in years or childhood friends of your grandparents & parents, who haven’t seen you since you were “this big”. All over downtown Vermilion houses are full of families doing the exact same thing, with their own set of relatives, creating the same types of memories. I love that! More than anything the Woollybear festival is such an amazing opportunity to connect with people, that only small-town’s can provide. Being in the company of others is the best way to spend an afternoon, & having marching bands, firetrucks, & “queens” with their swirly hand waves (that always make me laugh) creates the perfect background atmosphere.
So next year in October, if you happen to be in Vermilion on a Woollybear Sunday, make sure you stop by my grandparents house for a visit. We’ll have plenty of food to feed you, and can offer you a front row seat on the parade route. It’s sure to leave a smile on your face.
Hope to see you there!