Watermelon Carnival brings community fun to Water Valley and celebrates decades of history

Every year, Water Valley native Hal Vaughn travels to the Grenada Reservoir Spillway to spend the day fishing for shad to take home. However, he does not eat the shad or even use them as bait for catfish, as is common practice among anglers.

Instead, he takes them to a patch of farmland on his property and buries them in a specially prepared patch of loose, sandy soil. After letting the fish rot in the ground for a while, Vaughn adds to the mix what he calls “gin trash,” i.e. the waste material left over after using a cotton gin to separate cotton from the rest of the plant. , as well as a generous amount of phosphate and potash.

Vaughn, who worked as a railroad engineer for 40 years before retiring in 2002, makes these specific preparations for a particular purpose: to create loose, nutrient-rich soil perfect for supporting the roots of giant watermelons weighing several hundred pounds. for the annual Water Valley Watermelon. Carnival. Vaughn is currently gearing up for his fifth straight year of competing in the event’s biggest watermelon competition.

Hal Vaughn, a retired railroad engineer and Water Valley native, uses his own soil treatment methods to grow his giant watermelons, including the 202-pound one he submitted to the biggest annual watermelon contest. of the Water Valley Watermelon Carnival in 2018, which he won. Photo courtesy of Hal Vaughn

He previously won the contest from 2017 to 2019 and came second in 2021. The largest melon Vaughn has ever managed to grow, which he showcased at the 2018 Watermelon Carnival, weighed in at 202 pounds.

This year, the Water Valley Watermelon Carnival will take place from Friday August 5th to Saturday August 6th. a car show, barbecue contest, food and craft vendors, a 3K run and walk, and more.

Water Valley’s Economy Preserved Watermelons

When the Great Depression began to grip the United States in the early 1930s, the small town of Water Valley in northern Mississippi quickly felt its effects. The People’s Bank that served the area closed, and the railroad companies that had been key to the city’s prosperity since the 1800s began to pull out, which hit the city hard due to unemployment.

Amid the crisis, the editor of the local newspaper at the time, the Yalobusha Democrat, rallied young businessmen from the Junior Chamber of Commerce to find a way to both boost local morale and to find something of value that the city could use to draw attention to itself and attract business. In the end, the answer they found was watermelons and they held the first Water Valley Watermelon Carnival in August 1931.

The original organizers of the Water Valley Watermelon Carnival founded the event in 1931 with the goal of helping farmers sell their produce and boosting the local economy of the northern Mississippi town during the Great Depression. Photo courtesy of Water Valley Watermelon Carnival

“The idea of ​​the carnival was to look for ways to make money and help farmers by providing a product that was needed at the time,” says Jack Gurner, a Water Valley native and former photographer and journalist. “There was a lot of cotton, for sure, but the area also had good melons, and they thought if farmers could grow enough of them to ship them in large quantities, that might make a difference.”

“There was a market for watermelons in Chicago, and if they could get some attention and get a buyer, they could put them on one of the trains still running and ship them north,” Gurner adds.

Early incarnations of Watermelon Carnival included a parade, formal ball, and pageant where residents nominated a Carnival Queen to serve as the face of the event. The carnival proved to be a success and lasted for nine consecutive years until the outbreak of World War II brought the festivities to a hiatus of around 40 years.

Although the Water Valley Watermelon Carnival was discontinued in 1940 due to World War II, an educator from Water Valley, Miss., named Joe Elliot revived the festival in the 1980s, and the annual event has grown. reproduced every year since. Photo courtesy of Water Valley Watermelon Carnival

In the early 1980s, a Water Valley educator named Joe Elliot brought local businesses together again to revive the Watermelon Carnival, which is still going strong today as an annual event with elements of both old and new.

In the years since its revival, the carnival has made the Southeastern Tourism Society’s list of the region’s top 20 festivals and entered the Guinness Book of World Records for the biggest watermelon-eating contest. in 2019, which saw 745 participants take part.

2022 Watermelon Carnival Highlights

The 2022 Water Valley Watermelon Carnival festivities kick off at 6 p.m. on Friday, August 5, with Water Valley Mayor Donald Gray hosting the opening ceremony and introducing this year’s Watermelon Queen, Pa’nia Hawkins . Hawkins will then lead the annual watermelon drop event, during which she will drive up Central Street in a bucket truck and drop a watermelon from the bucket’s maximum height.

The Water Valley branch of the National Junior Auxiliary Association selects the Watermelon Queen each May before the festival through a beauty contest in which participants answer questions about Water Valley, such as the list their favorite local resident or their favorite part of the Watermelon Carnival and explaining why. A three-judge panel chooses winners for multiple age groups, from elementary through high school, with the high school category winner serving as the watermelon queen.

A young festival-goer, a slice of watermelon in hand, attends a past iteration of the Water Valley Watermelon Carnival, which the city of Water Valley, Mississippi, has held annually for decades. Photo courtesy of Water Valley Watermelon Carnival

“The Watermelon Queen is a young woman who represents our city well and possesses the best attributes of a Water Valleyan,” says Anna Langham, associate member and past president of the Water Valley Junior Auxiliary. “Our mission is to help children in the community and provide essential services, and the Watermelon Carnival is an important fundraiser for us, so we are proud to select someone each year who can serve as a face at the event.”

Starting at 7 p.m., the city will close Central Street and host a street dance next to Water Valley City Park with live music from Kevin and Bethany Paige, the house band of Alfred’s on Beale in Memphis, Tennessee. At 9 p.m., Mechanics Bank will host a fireworks display at the park to close out the first day of festivities.

Notable features of the Water Valley Watermelon Carnival include a watermelon drop, street dancing, live music, vendors, fireworks, 3k run and walk, car show, and car contest. barbecue cooking, as well as watermelons, seeds – spitting contest and bigger watermelons. Photo courtesy of Water Valley Watermelon Carnival

On Saturday, August 6, Mechanics Bank will host a 2-mile run and walk through downtown Water Valley beginning at 6:30 a.m., and Fischer Properties will host a car show in Shuffield Park beginning at 8 a.m. The Train Tracks Pork Attack Barbecue Cooking Contest, a qualifying event for Memphis’ annual competition in May, will take place behind Renasant Bank at 9 a.m. The Junior Auxiliaries will hold watermelon eating and seed spitting contests starting at 11 a.m., as well as the biggest annual watermelon competition at noon.

The second day of the Watermelon Carnival will also feature live music from Pharm Truck, Tanner Mills, Joe Austin & The Tallahatchies, Carson Stanford and Tom Foolery, as well as free watermelon slices and an auction for the biggest watermelon. winning.

“I moved to Water Valley about 24 years ago, and it has since become my adopted hometown,” said Water Valley Chamber of Commerce President Rhonda Burghett. “This event is always a great opportunity to get out on the weekends and see people you might not otherwise see very often, and it’s a great boost for the city. It’s the perfect way to soak up all that our downtown businesses have to offer and enjoy socializing with friends and family.

For more information on the Water Valley Watermelon Carnival, visit watervalleychamber.com or call 662-473-1122.

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