SHAMOKIN - A record number of vendors, a crowd of thousands and summer-like weather once again made the Anthracite Heritage Festival of the Arts a great success in Shamokin on Saturday.

Its impact on the city and surrounding Coal Township has grown over its seven-year existence, to the point where its success was linked in this year's opening ceremonies to the future of the community itself.

"Today is a day where we celebrate our rich heritage, and remember all those that gave it to us," the Rev. Sam Bellavia, pastor of Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Shamokin, said during his invocation for the seven-hour event. "The scriptures tell us a story about restoring a temple, not to its former glory, but to a new glory. Today is a sign that we are ready for that new glory in our town."

The festival again featured a wide variety of attractions among the 110 vendors. From horse-drawn carriage rides to high-wheeling old-time bicyclists, educational

books to edible "unicorn poop;" from polkas to potato cakes, steak sandwiches to "smencils" (scented pencils); from train and trolley rides to plenty of art and nostalgia, the festival seemed to again thrive on diversity.

Jeanne Shaffer, executive director of the Northumberland County Council for the Arts and Humanities (NCCAH), the organizing entity, was pleased with Saturday's turnout after record participation in Friday night's kickoff parade.

"I thought everything went great," Shaffer said Saturday evening. I couldn't have asked for better weather, or a better crowd. It was all just wonderful."

Playing to her past comments that she has a conversation about the weather with God each year, skies were blue and sunny, and temps well into the 80s with humidity for much of the day. It clouded up by mid-afternoon, but never rained.

Vendors were lined up and down both sides of the grass park plots along four-plus blocks of Market Street (Route 125), as well as on some side streets. Activities also took place at the nearby county career and arts center, and at churches, museums and other locations throughout the city. The trolley and carriage rides took people to sites in nearby Coal Township, and a 5K race was held on the campus of Shamokin Area School District in the morning.

Remembering Fritz

The public was called to the festival at 9:50 a.m. just like the miners of old were called to work every day as a recording of the Cameron Colliery whistle sounded at the main stage at Arch and Market.

Following a performance of the national anthem by Angela Kinder, who was accompanied by Vic Boris, Bellavia also spoke about a longtime supporter of the festival, Frederick "Fritz" Reed, who passed away in December.

"Some of us may remember his service as mayor of Shamokin or with the county," Bellavia said. "But many recall a man that never said 'no' to anyone in need. The caption of his senior yearbook picture called him 'an ideal gentleman who was admired by his fellow classmates.'"

Following the pastor's remarks, Reed's daughter, Debbie Losiewicz, and his great friend and successor as county registrar of wills and recorder of deeds, Mary Zimmerman, released 24 monarch butterflies, a symbol of new life. The butterflies, much like the thousands who would visit the festival over the coming hours, dispersed in many directions.

The heat is on

With the warm and muggy conditions, most stands selling anything cold did brisk business on Saturday.

Many enjoyed a cone or dish of ice cream from Maurer's Ice Cream Shoppe, which conveniently has a storefront location along the festival route.

"Maurer's has been around for a long time, so it's only fitting that we be here today," said worker Chelsea Witmer, "Between the festival and Memorial Day, it will be a very busy weekend."

She noted the most popular flavor sold at the festival was Maurer's signature treat, Bittersweet.

While ethnic and fair food were the norm through various vendors, the Anthracite Heritage Festival gave people the chance to try something different, like a Bison burger.

"The bison burger has a really rich taste. It's something you have to try to appreciate it," said stand operator Sheila Zanella about the buffalo meat.

"I didn't hear any complaints from vendors and a lot of business owners said that they were very busy Friday night because of the parade," Shaffer said. "That is what's great about the festival - everyone benefits from it."

Helping others, too

While some seek a boost in their bottom line, several churches and civic organizations use the festival as a fundraising tool. The Shamokin Moose is among them.

"This is our third year here and it's been pretty popular with the basket raffle and the bowling game we have for the kids," said Lisa Lamothe, who was working with friends Lorraine Marcheski and Dianne Allan. "We've had a good day today, and all the money we raise will go to Moose Heart Special Olympics and the Moose Heart Safe Surfing programs."

Shaffer is thrilled that the festival has sparked such community activity.

"When you put in all this work year round for this one weekend, it really makes it worth it to see the end result," she said, "and everyone having a good time."