People gathered in caravans, as they traveled together in cars, SUVs, vans, and Jeeps, lining the tiny dirt road in a three-mile long line that stretched through the wild, wooded area to a vast, sandy parking lot. After they reached the lot, they gathered outside their vehicles, and stood in a long line to board one of the many buses that would take them back to a community founded in a simpler time, for a day of what they hoped would bring them wholesome, old-fashioned fun.
It was a beautiful Saturday in June, and the sun shone high in the sky. The rain and severe thunderstorms that threatened the event the night before quickly disappeared into this day’s blue skies and eighty-degree temperatures, making it an ideal day to attend the 28th annual Whitesbog Blueberry Festival.
Whitesbog Farm, a large farm comprised of blueberry bushes and cranberry bogs in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, marked its festival this year by celebrating the centennial of the famous blueberry that was cultivated by Elizabeth White in the early 1900s.
The festival offered an endless array of games, children’s activities, food, live bands, vendors, historical tours, and nature tours.
The friends of Whitesbog, which included Deborah Hospital, the Rancocas Nature Conservancy, C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team), and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, featured information booths at the festival. Two local authors, John Calu and Dave Hart, were selling and signing various books they wrote on New Jersey history and lore to help benefit the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. Calu and Hart are the authors of such books as Trenton: A Novel, Mystery of the Jersey Devil, and the Treasure of Tucker’s Island.
“We’ve been writing together for over 25 years, “said author John Calu, pointing to co-author Dave Hart. “We began writing together in the ‘80s. One of our books,” he said, pointing to The Lost Mission of Captain Carranza, “about Carranza was used as the basis for a movie.”
William Cowen, an artist who makes and sells carved wooden birds, was among the vendors at the festival. When asked how long he’s been carving the wooden bird sculptures, Cowen replied, “I’ve been carving birds for over thirty years. It all started when my son started woodworking in school. I saw a decoy for sale, and thought, ‘I can make that.’ And I did.”
The festival charged a small fee for its tours to benefit the Whitesbog Preservation Trust, which takes care of the historical landmarks on its premises, the Whitesbog General Store, Suningive, the home of Elizabeth White, and the Darlington House, which was the home of the last known relative of Elizabeth White. One of the historical tours, Suningive, offered a glimpse of Elizabeth White’s home at the turn of the century. The walk to Suningive through the woods of Whitesbog was led by guide Mr. Giacomo and his wife, who were dressed in historical attire from the 1910’s.
After being led through the historical home’s garden, visitors went inside the home and were greeted by its historical owner come to life, who told its visitors what life was like for the residents of Suningive at Whitesbog in the 1910s. Elizabeth White, portrayed by Miss Lizzy, a member of the Preservation Trust said, “I became interested in Whitesbog in 1992. I was a volunteer at the Blueberry festival, and used to sell jam and fold t-shirts to help raise money. About five years ago, someone told me I looked like Elizabeth White. I learned the history of Elizabeth White and Suningive, and I’ve been doing the tours ever since.”
Children attending the festival could go on the MunchABuncha Nature tour, play games, take pictures with the Jersey Devil, and participate in activities to keep them entertained. Late in the afternoon, nearing the festival’s four o’clock end, a tired but determined five-year-old, obviously enjoying herself, declared to her mother, “But I don’t want to leave!”
Neither did I want to leave.