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WATER VALLEY – Big crowds, big melons and big fun, the Watermelon Metropolis of the World was bustling during the 52nd Annual Watermelon Carnival last weekend.
“Each year this event grows more and more and sometimes I wonder how it can get any larger,” Mayor Donald Gray told the crowd during opening ceremonies Friday afternoon. The ceremony continued with the introduction of the Watermelon Royalty, followed by the Watermelon Drop.
“It was a little-nerve racking, I had to hold on for my life,” Watermelon Queen Ta’Nia Hawkins shared about being hoisted almost 100 feet in the air in the city’s bucket truck. The queen’s aim was precise as the melon hit the big X on the pavement below.
“Once I was up there I was fine,” Hawkins explained.
Gray’s perception was shared by many as the lights faded later in the night and thousands gathered in the park for the Street Dance, sparking speculation that the carnival attendance was indeed the biggest in history. For over two hours Street Dance performers Kevin and Bethany Paige rocked the city with 1980s cover tunes, prompting immediate requests for their return at next year’s Street Dance.
The Mechanics Bank Fireworks show came at 9 p.m., and many more people enjoyed the carnival from afar, watching the night sky light up from porches across the city. Hours later the night came to an end and the park slowly emptied.
The action started with a bang Saturday morning as 327 contestants lined up for the Mechanics Bank 3K Run/Walk Saturday morning. Samuel Bryan was first the cross the finish line, hands raised in celebration as he knocked off reigning two-time winner Charlie Dawson by two steps.
“Sam is very competitive and runs cross-country in school,” his father, Forrest Bryan, explained after the race. “He said I can’t let Charlie beat me this year. I am going to get him, dad. He has been working all summer for this.”
“He out-sprinted me at the finish,” Dawson added about the race that had seen both runners hold the same pace for the duration. Dawson celebrated his 47th birthday only days earlier, but wasn’t ready to admit a three-decade age gap was his nemesis.
“I didn’t have a good day, I drank too much tequila last night,” he added. “I don’t know what is too much and what is not enough, so I sure didn’t want it to be not enough.”
It was mid-morning before the next big event, the car parade rolled from Shuffield Park to City Park and back, and the streets were lined as carnival-goers enjoyed the action. Preslee Fischer was at the front of the line in a Pontiac Firebird, followed by her father, Paul Fischer, in his 1965 Malibu. Artie Stewart was next in his 1952 Chevrolet pickup, with Odie Shuffield riding in the back. The line stretched almost from Mechanics Bank to the park.
By the end of the parade, the focus was in City Park and this year’s melon crop. There were no shortage of melon peddlers lining the city, but it was time for Tommy Latham’s What-A-Melon wagon to start bringing the monster melons to the gazebo to see who would earn bragging rights with the biggest melon. In all there were five entries, all over the 100-pound mark and two substantially larger.
Even before the weigh-in, it was evident that Hal Vaughn’s melon would be the winner, and he would reclaim the title from Jerry Vaughn. Chamber volunteer Jackson Ward summoned help as each melon was muscled onto the scales. A mere three pounds separated the smallest of the three entries – Michael Moore’s melon weighed 115.2 pounds, Kenny Harmon’s entry was 115.7 pounds and third place winner Kathryn Fielder’s melon was 118.1 pounds. It was time to weigh the biggest, Alan Rogers’ melon was 145.3 pounds and Vaughn’s weighed 168.8 pounds. Vaughn won his fourth blue ribbon during the last five years.
Now the fun started as Ward found his second calling as an auctioneer as the top three melons were auctioned. Tommy Reynolds was the first bidder to take home a melon with a winning bid of $70 for the third place melon. The second place melon went to Roger Pollan with an $85 dollar bid. The big bidding followed with Vaughn’s whopper. Billy Childs and Kim Herring Kidd got the action going as the price jumped from $100 to $200 and then to $300. Not to be outdone, Tennessee resident Shane Sanford stayed in the bidding and the price jumped to $450 before Ward slammed the hammer, “sold.”
“I think a lot of Mr. Rogers and Mr. Vaughn, they are the ones that got me to growing,” Sanford noted as he shucked the bills to pay for the melon. “I am going to carry it up to the Obion County Fair to display and show them what a big melon is supposed to look like.”
Tongues were wagging as the hot sun beamed down and the carnival fun continued into the afternoon. Less than 24 hours had passed since the mayor had credited the hard work of so many to make each carnival a success.
“The Chamber does a fantastic job organizing and promoting this event each year,” Gray had shared in the opening ceremony. He credited the city workers for getting the city ready for the big weekend. He also expressed gratitude for the support of local businesses.
“And, most of all, our citizens – for welcoming folks and making them feel the Southern hospitality and Water Valley hospitality,” the added the mayor of the Watermelon Metropolis of the World.