On May 10, 1924, Mechanicsburg held the first Jubilee Day.
It was billed as the Farmers and Merchants Jubilee Day, an opportunity for local farmers and merchants to show their wares. It wasn't a huge event.
But it was successful.
If you go
What: Jubilee Day in Mechanicsburg
When: From 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, June 18
Where: On Main Street from York Street to Walnut Street and on Market Street from Simpson Street to Strawberry Avenue. Free parking and shuttle service are available from the Mechanicsburg High School, 500 S. Broad St., and Immanuel Alliance Church (800 S. Market St.
Due to the large crowds and safety concerns, pets and bicycles are prohibited.
For more information: visit www.mechanicsburgchamber.org .
And it kept going on, every year getting bigger and bigger until now, when the 91st edition of the street fair will envelope this small borough in eastern Cumberland County.
"It's as big as it can get," said Jeff Palm, executive director of the Mechanicsburg Chamber of Commerce, "without changing venues."
And that would be unheard of. The venue, as it has been for generations, is downtown Mechanicsburg and on Jubilee Day, the town's population swells from 10,000 to 70,000 or more, if the weather cooperates. Jubilee Day is billed as the largest, longest running one-day street fair on the East Coast. (The Mothers' Day Street Fair in York might quibble with the largest part.)
The fair was conceived in 1923, when a group of Mechanicsburg businessmen attended a similar event in Gettysburg, so impressed that they adopted the idea.
The event maintains its original intent as local merchants, the mom-and-pop proprietors of the businesses, line Main Street, set up stands to promote their businesses, give away promo items and hold drawings. In all, 325 vendors will be offering food, games, arts and crafts, business information, retail products and carnival rides and more. There is a Children's Area and live entertainment on two stages.
As always, though, food — from funnel cakes to fries to steak and sausage sandwiches — takes center stage.
"People will be drawn to food, no matter what," he said.
Over the decades, the event has developed into a tradition unlike any other in the small town. Former residents who moved away plan vacations to come back for it. High school reunions are scheduled around it.
"It's like a one-day oasis," Palm said. "It's as if, for one day, the rest of the world doesn't exist."
He described it like going to the beach for a day, visiting the Boardwalk, "without getting sand in your shoes."
"It's like having a county fair, all in one day," he said. "Three days after it's over, you wonder where everything went. It just disappears."
Until the following year.
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