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Under sunny skies, mild temperatures and plenty of breeze, tens of thousands of people descended on downtown Wilson for the North Carolina Whirligig Festival on Saturday and Sunday.
People shopped with arts and crafts vendors and bought food from vendors who offered pizza, chicken and waffles, bloomin’ onions, waffle cakes, cotton candy and so much more.
Families listened to the bands, and children played in an area reserved just for them.
Wilson Mayor Bruce Rose said Saturday that it looked like the biggest crowd yet for the annual festival.
Past attendance estimates were 50,000 for both days of the weekend festival, and festival organizer Theresa Mathis said on Sunday that the crowd was at least that big this year.
“I can truthfully say that this one is bigger and better than any one we have ever had.” said Rose, sitting in the middle of the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, surrounded by throngs of visitors.
“We have got a big crowd, and we are well pleased with today’s turnout. It’s getting bigger every year,” he said.
Wilson resident Hope Ashworth, who attends the festival almost every year, walked down Nash Street Saturday eating corn on the cob.
“I love the Whirligig Festival,” Ashworth said. “It’s unique. It’s friendly. There’s lot of stuff to look at and things to do. We can bring the grandkids. They can play at different things, so we really like it.”
Ashworth said she is glad the community honored the late Vollis Simpson.
“It is internationally known as far as the whirligigs themselves,” Ashworth said. “I was thinking it was going to be rainy, but it’s not. The weather temperatures are good. The crowd is not too bad, so it’s good.”
Jeff Bell, executive director of the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park and Museum, called the turnout fantastic.
“It’s clear and beautiful and the wind is blowing, which we love,” Bell said. “It keeps the whirligigs moving.”
This year’s festival moved over a few blocks to be closer to the park.
Planning for the event goes back to last year, Rose said.
“Our staff did a great job of putting this together, and I like the way they moved it down the street some and put it around this park,” Rose said. “This is what it’s all about, our park here. To have it in this area is wonderful.”
Rose said the festival provides a shot in the arm to Wilson’s economy.
“I am a full-fledged Wilsonian, and I love to see people visit here,” Rose said. “It’s good for us, and it’s good for our businesspeople. It brings a lot of people here, and they spend a lot of money here.”
Larry Price, one of the artisans who restored Vollis Simpson’s whirligigs, walked among the thousands of people who turned out.
“It’s amazing that the wind is blowing and everything is operating and working and it looks amazing,” Price said.
Price said he felt a bit of pride for the whirligigs after spending so much time working on them.
“It’s kind of like a baby,” Price said. “You come and watch it every day. We come to Wilson even when we don’t work just to see them turn. It is amazing just to see this many people interested in it. It draws a lot of interest in our community, which is a great thing going on for Wilson, I believe.”