NEWBURYPORT – While the first events of the 62nd annual Yankee Homecoming took place a few days earlier, the official start of the festival kicked off during Olde Fashioned Sunday with clear blue skies and temperatures hovering at about 90 degrees.
During the roughly five-hour event, hundreds of people enjoyed rides around the Frog Pond, a quick trip on a pony, professional wrestling, bouncy houses, toy car races, a phalanx of full-size classic cars, pizza, face painting and even a chance to throw a roll of toilet paper into a fake toilet.
The toilet paper toss drew the attention of 7-year-old Camden Dartnell of Newburyport, who was there with his parents, Eric and Calle. Camden managed to successfully aim two out of three rolls into the target, winning two multicolored bracelets.
When asked his thoughts about Yankee Homecoming, Camden deferred all questions to his parents.
“He loves it,” his mother said, as Camden ducked for cover behind his father.
Calle Dartnell said she and her family are lucky to live in a city that hosts a free festival the last week of July and into early August each year.
“We love all the people coming here, it’s so much fun,” she said.
Across the midway, Georgetown High School cheerleaders and their coaches were busy painting rainbows, Batman emblems and butterflies onto dozens of young faces.
For the last nine festivals, the Georgetown Varsity Cheer program has begun its fundraising season at the Bartlet Mall, “so we have to be doing a good job,” coach Tracy Wood said.
Wood, a former Newburyport resident, called Olde Fashioned Sunday a “great way to kick off the week” and “a good family event.”
Fellow coach Tracey Zimirowski said it takes about three to five minutes to complete a face painting. The most popular designs are rainbows and butterflies, she said.
As this was taking place, Olde Fashioned Sunday master of ceremonies Dennis Palazzo kicked off a roughly hourlong commemoration to officially open Yankee Homecoming.
In addition to introducing local and state dignitaries, Palazzo spent a few minutes listing off every former Yankee Homecoming chairperson in attendance starting with the oldest living former chair, David Murray, who served in that role back in 1972.
In a moving moment, Murray handed current Yankee Homecoming Chair Jennifer Duggan a copy of his 47-year-old Yankee Homecoming program.
Afterward, Duggan said she was thrilled to receive Murray’s program.
“It’s an honor, it really is,” she said.
As chairperson, Duggan had the honor of raising the Yankee Homecoming flag and a Coast Guard-related flag at the mall’s flagpole at the end of the ceremony.
Duggan, who couldn’t help but smile as she talked about Yankee Homecoming, encouraged residents and visitors to enjoy what makes the event and the city special.
“Enjoy the city for the week,” she said.
Among those taking a turn at the microphone during the ceremony were Mayor Donna Holaday, Essex County Sheriff Kevin Coppinger, state Sen. Diana DiZoglio and state Rep. James Kelcourse.
“As far as I can remember, I can remember walking around the Bartlet Mall,” an overheated Kelcourse said after taking off his sport jacket. “Spend your money in Newburyport this week. We love your tourism dollars.”
Staff writer Dave Rogers can be reached by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @drogers41008.