GRAND RAPIDS, Ohio - Skies were gray. Meteorologists forecast a chance of rain.
Temperatures in the 50s, just pushing 60, made those wearing shirt sleeves chilly, giving folks thinking about a long drive to the Grand Rapids Apple Butter Fest in the northwest corner of Wood County plenty of reasons to stay home yesterday.
But the festival-goers came. By the tens of thousands they came, swelling the population of this tourist town along the Maumee River to perhaps 40 times the 1,002 counted on the last U.S. Census.
They parked up to a mile away, walked into the village, and then stood in lines of more than 100 people to buy a jar of apple butter fresh from a kettle cooking outside over a fire.
"That's how desperate I am," said Linda Coleman of South Toledo, who stood 113th in line. "Apple butter is great in the winter time. Apple butter and hot toast - you can't beat it."
Of course, there are easier and cheaper ways to get apple butter. But they wouldn't include all the historical reenactments, old farm-machinery and military-equipment demonstrations, festival food, arts, crafts, and antiques that almost obscure the actual apple-butter making in Grand Rapids.
The Grand Rapids Historical Society spends $60,000 to put on the eight-hour festival. Some of the biggest expenses are the basics such as arranging for shuttle buses to haul people into the village from far-off parking lots and hiring off-duty law-enforcement authorities to direct traffic, which was backed up a half mile on U.S. 24 early yesterday afternoon.
When the crowds are large, as yesterday's appeared to be, the historical society typically turns a profit of about $15,000 from the festival.
But those profits, spent on renovation projects around the village such as the town hall, are a secondary goal of the festival, according to co-chairmen Steve Kryder and Jim Thomson.
Their highest priority, they said, is bringing people together for a fun day of learning about history. That's why they hired Ralph Borror of Springfield Township to dress in a black suit and top hat and impersonate Abraham Lincoln.
"Quite a number of people have asked me about going to the theater," he remarked. "I don't have a clue what they're talking about."
A few steps away, the historical society had Eric Rotsinger of Van Wert, Ohio, in a white suit portraying Mark Twain.
"Of course they do think I'm dead," he said of festival-goers. "And I tell them," and he held out his hands for the crowd to say his famous phrase, "reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated."
In the midst of it all were children learning the old-fashioned art of candle making, reenactors handing out samples of corn cob jelly, and hundreds of craft dealers trying to sell edible birdhouses made of bird seed, braided rugs in the shape of a dog bone, quilted covers for blenders, can openers, and toaster ovens, and enough Halloween and Christmas items to decorate a village.
Shop owners in Grand Rapids hope the big boom of yesterday's festival has a long tail that lasts through Christmas.
"I'll get repeat business from this day until the end of the year," Bennie Summers of Summertyme Antiques and Collectibles said.
Contact Jane Schmucker at: email@example.com or 419-337-7780.41.41182 -83.86462