You probably have heard about the Running of the Bulls. It is less likely you have attended. The annual event draws thousands of energetic sprinters clad in white and red who do their best to outrun a contingent of bulls in hot pursuit through the narrow streets of the town. It is a highlight of the festival of San Fermín, a weeklong, historically rooted celebration held annually (except during Covid) in the city of Pamplona, Navarre, in the Basque region of Spain.
Well, Dewey Beach has its own version, and the annual “Running of the Bull” is scheduled this year for Saturday, June 25. Note that BULL is singular and is actually two people dressed in a large brown bull costume.
Dewey’s Running of the Bull had an auspicious start 25 years ago. Locals Michael McDonnel and Mike Howard had been to Pamplona for the real deal. Over a few beers, the idea for a red, white and paella party was brewing along with the Bull Run. About 35 people showed up that first year but the event continued to grow in popularity and Starboard’s owner ultimately stepped in to manage what was becoming one of Dewey’s most popular special events.
McDonnel’s wife Kathy eventually added a Kids Run so many members of a family could participate from grandkids to grandparents and everything in between. The Kids Run takes place in the morning.
Running of the Bull may be more of a spectator sport for some retirees and plenty line up across the street to watch. The party-like atmosphere puts a smile on everyone’s face whether one wants to engage or imbibe, as do most attending 20-somethings. All are welcome even if it is just to watch.
The merriment starts around noon in what was the parking lot of the Starboard Restaurant and Bar. It is billed as a fundraiser for the fire department and $10 donation is suggested. The actual “Run” is mid-afternoon following a fly-over by vintage airplanes that streak past the restaurant as they cruise down the beach.
It is quite a scene featuring a number of make-shift bars, flowing libations, live music, an Elvis impersonator, matadors, an Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest and lots of slightly tipsy revelers dressed in the traditional Pamplona white and red and having a great deal of fun. (Bonus info: the original Running of the Bulls inspired Hemingway to write “The Sun Also Rises”.)
When it is time to start the Run, the run crowd makes its way across Coastal Highway in waves, down the beach for four or five blocks accompanied by “the Bull” and matador then resumes the festivities back at the Starboard. The local police department is on hand to monitor the crowd and the traffic which has to be stopped periodically for the runners to cross the highway.
No one should feel obligated to do the Run but the sheer spectacle is worth the experience. The day is more like a big block party that gives people an excuse to dress up.
McDonnel hasn’t missed a Running of the Bull since its inception and is particularly fond of the 2003 weekend when he met his wife. He typically serves as MC clad in Pamplona red and white garb.
“I love seeing people who have never been look around in shock and amazement,” he says. He also loves seeing older people bring their kids and grandkids. Some come on out and see what the buzz is all about (at least once is a must for your Southern Delaware Bucket List)!
By Mary Jo Tarallo, Guest Journalist
Mary Jo Tarallo spent much of her career in public relations with various non-profits and spent 40 years involved with the ski industry as a journalist, public relations director for a national trade association and as executive director of the Learn to Ski and Snowboard initiative. Prior to her ski industry involvement she worked for the Maryland International Center in Baltimore and United Way of Central Maryland. She won a Gold Award for TV programming for a United Way simulcast that starred Ophrah Winfrey. She has been cited for her work by numerous organizations. Mary Jo grew up in Baltimore, attended the University of Maryland and Towson University, lived in Washington, DC for 21 years and has been a full time resident of Rehoboth Beach and Milton since May 2019.