It’s hard to remember now, but the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce’s annual Sea Witch Festival had humble beginnings.
Set up on a Rehoboth Avenue dirt lot, in what is now First Street Station, the festival was one day, with just a few events. It was conceived by the chamber’s board to bring people into the city after Labor Day.
Chamber President Carol Everhart said the chamber contracted her to make the event happen on a budget of $5,000. The first thing she did was schedule it around Halloween. Mums and pumpkins are inexpensive, and the holiday already comes with costumes and fun, she said.
Everhart also named the festival after a clipper ship from the 1840s called Sea Witch. It’s a vessel that traversed these waters, said Everhart.
The first year it drew 5,000 people, and Everhart said she can remember feeling devastated by the low turnout. “I really was very skeptical the chamber was going to hire me back for the following year,” she said, laughing. “Then I ran into Don Derrickson, and he was pleased with how much of a success it was.”
Thirty years later, Everhart said, the festival’s three-day weekend will bring 200,000 people to Rehoboth Beach if the weather is good. “I’ve been told it’s the largest event in the state,” said Everhart. “I don’t think they realized the potential. It’s humbling.”
If they can get it in the air, this will probably be the last year for the parade’s iconic Sea Witch balloon. That balloon is 50 years old and first flew in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, said Everhart. “It’s flown every year since the mid-90s. She’s like me – she needs a face lift,” said Everhart. The chamber is figuring out how it to pay for a new one, she said.
Everhart said one of the keys to success for the festival is its ability to expand. New this year is a three-day indoor vendor show, allowing vendors who would like to participate but don’t want to risk the bad weather. Another key to success is community participation, said Everhart. There are a lot of nonprofits and businesses who set up and take advantage of all the people in town, she said.
There’s no denying the parade is one of the special things, but, to the benefit of the visitors, there’s so many great things happening that weekend, said Everhart.
The 30th annual Sea Witch Festival funs Friday, Oct. 25 – Sunday, Oct. 27. For more festival information, including event locations, times and merchandise, go to www.seawitchfestival.com or call 302-227-6446.