Thousands Gather for Last Delmarva Chicken Festival

6/28/2014 7:00 AM
By Michael Short Delmarva Correspondent

CENTREVILLE, Md. — After 65 years, the Delmarva Chicken Festival has come to an end.

The two-day festival began in 1948 — then known as the Chicken of Tomorrow Festival — as a way of promoting what is now a massive poultry industry on Delmarva. It has done that and done that well.

But Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., or DPI, has made the bittersweet decision to move on.

“The event, held each June in celebration of Delmarva’s chicken business, dates back to 1948 when the first Delmarva Chicken Festival was held in Georgetown, Del.,” said Keith Moore, president of DPI. “At the time, the chicken industry on Delmarva was young and small, but business leaders recognized its potential for an area in need of an economic boost. The festival has been a well-received chicken industry promotion in eight decades, but as times and industry challenges change, so must our ways of supporting our industry.”

So, thousands gathered last weekend in Centreville, Md., for one last celebration of everything chicken.

Held at the Queen Anne’s County 4-H Park, visitors gathered for chicken dinners, a car show, a “touch a truck” event for kids, music, food, games, children’s rides, the world’s largest frying pan, a chicken pickin’ contest, arts and crafts, baby chicks, a motorcycle show, educational exhibits, and a farmers market.

Politicians were everywhere, traffic backed up for blocks and there was probably the world’s largest collection of chicken hats.

There was even a “chickens for charity” auction, one of many fundraisers held. The Boy Scouts helped park cars for donations, and numerous 4-H groups showed up to sell lemonade or baked goods to raise funds.

“I think we are going out with a bang,” said Bill Satterfield, executive director of DPI. Satterfield joked that on Friday the crowds had been backed up all the way to Kent Island.

“We are having a great time,” said Claudia Morrell of Baltimore. Morrell came with the rest of her family, Chris and Carin Morrell, and they sat in the front row to view the popular chicken pickin’ contest sponsored by Mountaire.

Participants were given a cooked chicken and then raced against the clock to pick and shred meat from the chicken. Shredded chicken flew as contestants picked pounds of chicken in mere minutes in an effort to win the $500 first prize.

The event was so popular that people actually filled bleachers to cheer on their favorite “pickers.”

Morrell said she especially liked that many local politicians showed up and took part in the picking contest, joking that that is the way we “should pick all our candidates.”

The Morrell clan were easy to spot because of their chicken hats. Chris Morrell’s hat even featured a sort of Bavarian chicken drinking a beer, although there were any number of chicken hats, toy chickens, baby chickens and even 6-feet-tall chickens in costume waiting to pose for pictures.

Music from a center stage drew hundreds of listeners.

For years, a chicken cooking contest was part of the festivities. But that ended in 1998.

While the chicken cooking contest may have stopped, eating chicken has still gone on strong.

Many show up for the food, which features anything and everything chicken, along with barbecue, hot dogs, ice cream and funnel cakes.

A favorite attraction is what was once the world’s largest frying pan. Built in 1950, the frying pan was constructed in Selbyville, Del. — the original has actually been replaced with a second pan of precisely the same dimensions.

It is so large that chicken is dipped up with two crab nets and stirred with a rake. Ten-feet wide, the pan can cook 800 chicken quarters at one time while holding 160 gallons of oil.

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