Oktoberfest draws thousands
WILMINGTON — Bill Hummel likes to use a particular word when talking about the Whiteface Oktoberfest — “Gemutlichkeit.” It’s a German word describing a feeling of cheer, warmth and togetherness.
As guests made their way into the festival, they were greeted by Hummel and his two fellow musicians, Andrew Hartley and Ian Hargreaves. They wore lederhosen and blew into 12-foot long alphorns, emitting deep bass tones, similar to the advertisements for Ricola cough drops. The wooden, hand-crafted alphorns originated as communication tools in Switzerland and the Bavaria region of Germany.
For the past 18 years Hummel and other members of his alphorn group have traveled here from Virginia every fall for this town’s rendition of the popular Munich celebration.
“We’re invited every year and play the same songs,” he said. “Just trying to keep the tradition alive.”
This past weekend marked Whiteface Mountain’s 28th Oktoberfest. Many say they keep coming back because of its familiarity and traditions. About 3,400 guests attended the festivities Saturday, and Sunday’s numbers weren’t yet available, according to Jon Lundin, spokesman for the state Olympic Regional Development Authority that organized the event.
Inside Whiteface’s base lodge sat Ed Schenk of Morrisonville, a slender 82-year-old playing a black and blue Beltuna accordion. Guests passing by immediately got into the spirit, stomping their feet and slapping their knees like polka dancers. His accordion skills even managed to calm down a toddler in the midst of a temper tantrum.
This is Schenk’s 15th year with the Oktoberfest. He attended the real Oktoberfest in Germany as an 18-year-old soldier in the U.S. Army.
“I hear millions of people show up for that one nowadays,” he said. “Back then I was amazed to see, you know, 600,000 attend it.”
Schenk said Whiteface’s Oktoberfest is one of his favorites.
“You have the mountain here, and it’s just a great looking place,” he said.
Richard Moncsko of Wilmington has been the burgermeister, or mayor, of the Oktoberfest since its inception. The role is ceremonial. He puts on a suit and bow tie, wraps a green sash around his chest and sticks a large white feather in his hat.
“My job is to basically walk around, talk to people and enjoy the celebration,” he said. “Sometimes folks think I’m actually in charge of a lot of things. I once had a women tell me there was no toilet paper in the bathroom. Another year, a guy came up to me ’cause an overheated light started a fire in one of the tents. I think it’s the big feather — makes me easily recognizable.”
This year, Monscko’s daughter Michele Gilbert accompanied him as the burgermeister’s daughter. They like the celebration because it’s a family affair. Sure, there’s beer, but Moncsko, Gilbert and other Oktoberfest regulars said Oktoberfest is more about the sense of community and friendship it creates.
“You see a lot of the same faces every year, and you make connections,” Gilbert said. “We were just talking to a man we met years ago, and we’ve been in touch with him ever since.
“This Oktoberfest is big enough where you can have a lot of fun but small enough to keep it intimate and friendly.”