Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Johnson To Jump In Neuse If It Doesn't Rain On Ham & Yam Festival

Perception or reality, there is a growing local legend that lives along the banks of the Neuse River in Downtown Smithfield. And just like clockwork, around this time every year the tale seems to grow bigger. The bizarre tale that will send chills down any outdoor event planner is that it always rains the weekend of the Ham & Yam Festival. To save the 2007 Ham & Yam Festival from washing down the drain, Chris Johnson, Executive Director of the Downtown Smithfield Development Corporation and host organization of the annual town celebration, is offering up his body as a way to ward off the evil spirits. At the conclusion of the Festival, as soon as the Relay for Life Duck Race is over at 5:00PM on Sunday afternoon, Johnson will jump from the banks of the Town Commons into the Neuse River if it doesn't rain during the Ham & Yam. "You cannot imagine how many people come up to me and joke that they'll be sure to not wash their car this week, or that they'll plan to cut their lawn on Wednesday, cause it will surely rain during the weekend of festival," states Johnson. "I was eating at Zack’s Char-grill last week and over heard the next booth state something to the effect…"well, Ham & Yam is next weekend, so I had better plant my garden next week." I first thought they were having a little fun at my expense, but then I realized, they didn't know who I was, or that my organization put on the event!" To educate the public, the Ham & Yam Festival turned to Wingate Lassiter, Director of the Johnston County Heritage Center , and one of the founding event organizers in 1985, to help dispel the persistent rumor. According to Lassiter, here are the facts from official records kept in the Heritage Center: Since 1985, when the first festival was held, through last year's event: measurable precipitation was recorded at Smithfield on 14 of 38 days when outdoor Ham & Yam activities were scheduled; 11 of 21 festival weekends had at least one day of rainfall – ranging from 3.5 to 0.02 inches within a 24-hour period; and 4 of 21 weekends had measurable rainfall every day outdoor events were scheduled. "When the festival was held on the third weekend April, everyone was begging us to move it to May because it always seemed to rain," states a perplexed Lassiter. "Five years ago, during the Town’s 225 Birthday Celebration, we moved the Festival to May. Since then, the original April weekend has had prefect weather, and we have had measurable precipitation on the May date!" Johnson states he is unaware if the bookies in Vegas are putting any odds on the "splash spectacle" and avoids looking at any long range weather forecast. "After doing this for 7 years, the way I figure it, it just wouldn't be a Ham & Yam Festival if I wasn't wet," Johnson quickly jokes. "Two years ago we built a big 10 foot tall rain gauge and set it up in the middle of the festival area to poke a little fun at ourselves. This year we hope to have a more up to date model. Stranger things have happened. I can always hire myself out to Midwest farmers during their drought season. I've been told I could make a lot of money!"


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