The City of Rehoboth’s Sea Witch Festival in late October is arguably the most popular festival at the beach attracting between 180,000 – 200,000 visitors over the annual three-day weekend. That wasn’t always the case. In fact, it started out modestly in 1989 with barely 5,000 people in attendance. This year’s event is October 28-30.
The festival is named after a speedy clipper ship built in New York City and launched on December 8, 1846. She was famous for her record runs to and from China and was considered the fastest vessel afloat when launched.
Carol Everhart conceived the idea for the festival even before she became Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Chamber of Commerce President. She came up with the name after local officials approached her to develop a “fall event” for Rehoboth. At the time, she was based in Ocean City, MD.
Everhart suggested a tie-in with Halloween, an idea that originally didn’t resonate with City officials simply because Rehoboth became somewhat of a “ghost town” after Labor Day and they thought no one would attend. “The word on the street was ‘See you next summer,’” she says. However, just as a witch’s cauldron brew simmers, the idea percolated and officials finally agreed to the concept, according to her recollection.
The budget that first year basically matched attendance. Even in 1989, $5,000 was, should we say, a skeleton budget for a major event. Everhart recruited a gathering of non-profits to fill a large tent that was pitched in a parking lot where First Street Station now stands. A storm blew over the tent and organizers had to scramble to pull off the program. Everhart thought it was a disaster, but those who had hired her were thrilled with the festival’s ultimate success.
Now, more than 30 years later, Sea Witch attracts visitors from far and wide, many of whom spend countless hours creating unique costumes for Saturday’s parade just for the privilege of strolling down Rehoboth Avenue to the applause of appreciative crowds.
The gigantic green Sea Witch balloon named Sally leads the parade along with a version of the Sea Witch clipper ship, donated by the Ward and Steward families, Rehoboth locals. The original balloon was retired a couple of years ago, but the Chamber was able to hire its creator, Ken Moody, to craft a new one that is almost identical. Everhart is not certain when the balloon entered the picture, but it was the only one in the parade at the time. Now, there are ten. Everhart says the hope is to set up the balloon this year in the Convention Center after the parade so visitors can take photos with Sally.
One of the parade highlights is the annual appearance of a Mummers group from the Philadelphia area. There are plenty of marching bands from area schools, floats and worthy community organizations. Saturday’s parade is just one of more than 100 activities for children and adults planned during the festival, including trick or treating, beach contests, lantern tours, magic shows and the annual Dog parade on Sunday. A key attraction is the Fiddlers Festival held at the Rehoboth Convention Center.
“It’s three days of FUN,” says Everhart. It’s also a major revenue generator for the Chamber. Luckily, portions of the festival have only been cancelled twice.
Festival goers should consider riding the Dart bus to the parade. Parking is sparce and Rehoboth Ave will be closed to traffic. The Sea Witch Festival has been featured in HGTV’s list of the “21 Great Fall Festivals. For a complete schedule and details go to the beach-fun web site.
AND don’t miss the DOGGIE PARADE on the following Sunday. Dog owners and their fur friends, dressed up to match, parade the boardwalk for a day of FUN!
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 Oprah 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.