Darlington draws thousands to festival Apple fans find food, fun, friendliness


This sleepy little village of 500 residents once again was teeming with visitors as thousands of people made an annual pilgrimage to celebrate autumn with its annual Apple Festival.

By midday, a half-mile stretch of Shuresville Road, from Main Street to just north of the elementary school, was a sea of people.

"I think it's a combination of the setting, the season and the genuine feeling of friendliness that has made this event so successful," said June Griffith, who, with her husband, Bill, operates the Darlington Country Store. "I've watched the crowds grow from 1,000 our first year [1986] to what you see today."

Mrs. Griffith was a pioneer of the fair. "Our original purpose was to help the area churches raise some money. We didn't intend for it to become this big, but word spread and people came . . . more and more each year."

For the children, there were pony rides, a petting zoo, helicopter rides, face painting, hay rides, cotton candy, balloons and a clown.

Three areas were designated "country markets" where items from handmade Christmas wreaths to antique glassware were on sale. Food included hot dogs, hamburgers, barbecue, pit beef, chili, french fries, apple pies, apple dumplings and lots of apples.

Families seemed to be the order of the day. A typical scene was moms with children in tow while dads, ladened with apple pies, bags of apples and jars of jelly, trailed behind.

"I'm here with my two children, a niece, my mother and both my mother-in-law and father-in-law," said Sharon Larkin, of Churchville. "I love to come for the pumpkins, food and flea markets."

Near the Hay Bale Amphitheater where a musical group from the Darlington Christian Center was performing, Elizabeth Eschmann, of Bel Air, and Claudia Renshaw, of Street, said they came for the good food and to support a "wonderful community effort."

Just before noon, a large portion of the crowd watched a Maryland National Guard sky-diving team drop 8,000 feet from a helicopter. The five men glided slowly down to an open field across from the school.

"How much does that ride cost and where can I get on?" asked 73-year-old Ruth McGlaughlin of Havre de Grace. She seemed disappointed to learn that the Army National Guard helicopter did not offer rides to the public.

Her friend Elsie Gilbert, 78, said she not only wanted to go for a ride but wanted to "jump with the soldiers." When last seen, they were making their way to the festival's helicopter, where rides were available to the public.

Jessica Eibner, 13, a student at Fallston Middle School, was "enjoying the food" while her mother, Mary, was "interested in the crafts."

In front of the school, Larry Fox, head baseball coach at Havre de Grace High School, was coaxing kids to test their arms by throwing a ball while being clocked by a radar gun. George "Sparky" Evans V, age 4, caught the coach's eye when he was clocked at 21 mph from a distance of three feet. "Kid's got a future," said Mr. Fox. Sparky's father, George IV, fired one at 66 mph but was told he was no prospect.

Sgt. Michael Angelo, of Aberdeen Proving Grounds, was enjoying a day off with his children. Seated under a huge shade tree Sergeant Angelo was polishing off a hot dog while daughter, Tia, 5, and son, Timothy, 4, were wearing soft ice cream from nose to chin. "My wife had to work today," he said, "so I thought this would be a neat place to come with the children."

Nicholas Yanney, 3, thought it was neat, too. "That was more fun than the merry-go-around," he told his grandmother Phyllis Martin, who was holding little 3-month-old Jonathan Yanney.

In keeping with its sense of community, the festival choses to honor a resident each year, instead of having an "Apple Queen." This year's recipient of the Darlington VIP award was Dr. Dudley Phillips, the village physician for several decades.

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