PUNXSUTAWNEY — The words "the carnival is in town" will likely not be heard for the first time in many years in Punxsutawney the week before the Fourth of July, as the Punxsutawney Fire Department has announced it is unable to contract a company for this year.
"It's with a heavy heart that I announce that there will be no carnival in Punxsutawney this year," said Tami McFarland, president of the Punxsutawney Fire Department Old Home Week Committee.
She said that, due to the ever-worsening economy and increasing fuel charges, J&J Amusements can no longer afford to travel to Punxsy.
"It's sad that we have to part with J&J, as they've been playing in Punxsy for the last 30 years and have become like a family to our firefighting community," McFarland said, adding that many friendships have developed over the years.
"J&J has been very good and generous to the Punxsutawney Fire Department, and they will be missed," she said.
McFarland said the Old Home Week Committee has been diligently searching for alternate amusement companies since last June.
"However, we ran into scheduling issues, unavailability and financial differences," she said.
"So, as of now, we have not been able to retain a new company for our annual carnival," McFarland added.
But McFarland said “the end” may not be the end — at least not yet. The committee is not going to give up on this time-honored tradition and will continue its search for the next year.
She said the annual Firemen's Parade will still be held this year and is slated for 4 p.m. Saturday, June 29 on West Mahoning Street in downtown Punxsy.
"We are still discussing other events that we can institute that day, such as firefighter games at the carnival grounds behind the Punxy Plaza," she said.
"I am personally so disappointed that we can't bring in the carnival to Punxsy this year, and I understand how important this event is to the children in our community. It is such a wonderful tradition that we are not going to give up easily," McFarland said.
She said there's a lot of history connected with Old Home Week in general. According to “McKnight's History of Jefferson County” and the Punxsutawney Area Historical and Genealogical Society, the celebration was first held Aug. 23-28, 1909.
"During this eventful week, nearly everyone who had ever lived in Punxsy returned to visit, and an elaborate program was carried out each day for their entertainment," William J. McKnight wrote, adding that “the town was resplendent with beautiful decorations, and the air filled with music during the entire week, and fully a hundred thousand people witnessed the various big events on the program.”
McKnight said the whole community contributed to the success of the yearly event.
"A large share of the credit must be given to A.J. Truitt. Esq., who was chairman and manager of the Old Home Week Association,” McKnight wrote, adding that the original event was not sponsored by the local fire companies.
He said that between 1909 and 1940, there were no organized Old Home Week celebrations.
In 1940, Central, Elk Run and Lindsey fire companies joined together to organize a new week-long celebration, according to McKnight.
"The first Firemen's Old Home Week celebration was held with an opening church service, concerts and parades almost every day and free acts every night," according to a written account of Punxsutawney Fire Department history.
The 1984 Fire Department celebration was the 44th year of the Firemen's Old Home Week Celebration and the 75th anniversary of the original Punxsutawney Old Home Week.
McFarland said the carnival has actually been held in several different locations around town, including Maple Avenue at the baseball fields, Mahoning Street in downtown, the National Guard Armory on North Findley Street and now behind the Punxy Plaza.
"I've been working on the parade, and the committee is always looking for new acts and bands to march in the annual parade," McFarland said, adding that anyone who would like to participate can call her at 938-5524.
She said the committee will begin working on the alternate events in the beginning of February.