To break the winter doldrums in late February, Sussex County men and women split off to party.
On Friday, Feb. 28, men will gather in Georgetown for the 77th annual Oyster Eat while women will gather near Lewes for the 24th annual Ladies Shrimp Feast.
It will be a time of dancing, drinking beer, eating and socializing. And the two events raise thousands of dollars for the Georgetown Fire Company and Lewes Fire Department. The fire departments have become dependent on the two events to help purchase much-needed equipment.
Georgetown Fire Company,
Ladies Shrimp Feast
Lewes Fire Department
The Oyster Eat, which has always been a fundraiser for the county seat's fire company, celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2012. But when you research the history of the event, it actually started in 1933, which doesn't add up until you subtract the four years the event was suspended because of World War II. It was also canceled another year because oysters were too expensive at $2.50 a bushel. Oysters are about $40 a bushel today.
During those early years, supplies to run the event cost less than $10 and fire company records show that the profit in 1939 was $33. Today, the event raises $10,000 to $15,000 for the fire company.
The Georgetown Fire Co. Fire Hall begins to fill early and within an hour or so, the hall is usually filled to near capacity. Over the past few years, outside tents have been added to take care of the overflow crowd that has been averaging about 1,000. The largest attendance was more 1,250.
It doesn't take long before men starting kicking up their heels to Bluegrass music on the saw-dust covered floor.
The Oyster Eat has branched out over the years to include merchandise sales, raffles and auctions. One of the highlights of every event is the auction of the Oyster Eat knife handcrafted over the past decade by father and son Rocky and Neal Green. The highest price ever paid for the knife was $7,700 in 2008; Rocky's first knife fetched $5,100 in 2005.
“When you think about $7,000 being raised for a volunteer fire company, that much money potentially has a big impact on that year's annual budget,” Neal said. “The fire company has hard-working volunteers, and it's an honor to be able to facilitate in raising money for their budget.”
This year's knife will be made by Neal, an Army major in the 82nd Airborne stationed in Fort Bragg, N.C. Because of his schedule, he rarely gets to attend the event. “This is one of the best knives yet,” said Michael Briggs, who has been chairman of the event for the past 10 years.
The fire company will also raffle a Browning Citori White Lightning over and under 20-gauge shotgun.
It's a big job feeding 1,000 men. Briggs said the men eat 55 gallons and another 115 bushels of oysters and 2,500 hot dogs and drink 35 to 50 half kegs of beer.
Regular attendees know what happens at the Oyster Eat and Shrimp Feast stays at the Oyster Eat and Shrimp Feast. “And it's the 77th annual event for Station 77; that's a big deal to the fire company,” Briggs said.