Dubbed by promoters as the largest one-day street fair in the eastern United States, Jubilee Day has been an annual tradition in the small town of Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, since its inception in 1924. It has become such an industry unto itself that the name 'Jubilee Day' even has its own trademark. In fact, the town's population swells 10 times its normal size during the event.
Apparently the event got started when some Mechanicsburg businessmen attended a similar celebration in nearby Gettysburg in 1923. They returned home and began planning a 'Farmers and Merchants Day' to thank customers of downtown businesses and to attract lots of new customers to the downtown business district. By holding it in June, the local merchants were sure of attracting the local farming community which had just got its crops in the ground and didn't have much else to do.
The town quickly embraced the idea and it continued to grow. Sometime in the 1930s the name changed from Farmers and Merchants Day to 'Jubliee Day'. During the second world war, the event was not held, but it returned and has run uninterrupted except for a rain-out one year in the 1950s1.
Even though the name was changed in the 1930s, the street fair retained some loyalty to the region's farming heritage until 1975 when livestock judging was finally ended.
At first, the livestock judging was considered one of the highlights of the event. But it has grown from these humble beginnings to become the mammoth street fair of today which closes the main street through town from dawn until well after sunset to accomodate the 50,000-plus visitors to the annual event.
Jubliee Day Today
The event is still run by the Mechanicsburg Chamber of Commerce. It is traditionally held on the third Thursday of June but the town council officially sets the date since it is their responsibility to close the roads and provide police protection to prevent a lorry from driving through the festival.
In addition to dozens and dozens of booths sponsored by area merchants, the modern Jubilee Day features artists and artisans selling their wares, carnival-type rides and even a recruitment booth for the armed services. In all it is estimated that more than 200 vendors and rides line Main Street for the day. Food is always in abundance with crowd-pleasers like funnel cakes, soft pretzels, french fries, hot dogs, hamburgers, and a large variety of sweets from cotton candy to candied apples.
It's odd, but the food is what always seems to make the biggest impression on the crowds at Jubilee Day. Sure many of the thousands who fill the downtown are there to buy a lawn ornament or ceramic vase, but the majority seem to devote most of their time (and money) to eating. Ask anyone in attendance and 'food' will always earn a special mention in why they came to the event.
Parking is at a premium and area churches raise some extra money by selling parking in their downtown lots for $4 or $5 for the day. There is also a free shuttle bus service running from two area parks to the downtown area. If you miss your bus, you might be required to walk a mile or two back to your car, and while this doesn't seem like a big deal sitting in front of your computer, after a hot day walking up and down Main Street, walking five extra steps can feel like a marathon.