Before autumn settles over Maryland's Eastern Shore, Ocean City will throw one more celebration of summer. Sunfest, which punctuates the end of the resort's busy beach season and officially opens the town's more mellow off-season, will take its 17th annual bow this week.
If the anticipated 300,000 visitors show up, city officials and merchants will enjoy a final midsummer-like dream before fall's more laid-back pace sets in.
"It's always sad when the summer's over, but the festival is a good way to end it -- with lots of laughter," says Jorge Adeler, who oversees the festival's treasure hunt. "The festival is exquisite, and it is people putting their best into it that makes it so good."
The Sunfestivities get under way Thursday with a 10 a.m. boardwalk parade led by the colorful Struttin' Mummers from Philadelphia. The celebration will continue 10 a.m. through 10 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and conclude Sunday with an abbreviated 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. schedule.
Most of the action will take place at the inlet parking lot and beach, but Sunfest-related events will be held throughout the resort. There's a commercial boat show at west O.C.'s Shantytown Village, a softball invitational tournament at the Northside Park and a fishing competition. (See box on Page 20 for a schedule).
The opening parade will cover the length of the boards, beginning at 10 a.m. at 27th Street. Chugging along the boardwalk aboard a tram will be Mayor Roland E. "Fish" Powell and members of the Ocean City Council, Ocean City Fire Prevention Queen Tiffany Eschenburg, Little O.C. Fire Prevention Queen Angela Lewis and Little O.C. Fire Chief Jason Wheeler-Pool. The public is invited to hop aboard the train as the procession passes.
At the inlet, Sunfest's big-top tents will shelter festival-goers from the late summer sun and house food vendors and entertainers. Tents will also be reserved for artisans and craftspeople displaying everything from original paintings to country quilts. Among the more unusual arts expected to be for show and sale are hand-painted clothing, dough art, soft-sculpture animals and pine cone baskets.
Thursday is Senior Citizen Day at Sunfest. The opening day's entertainment includes two performances by the Struttin' Mummers (also known as the Hegeman String Band), a Broadway revue complete with a chorus line by members of the Worcester County Senior Center in Ocean City and country music by Carrot Top and Country Pride.
Musical high notes aside, Thursday's main event may well be the old-fashioned bathing suit contest, slated for 2:30 p.m. Men, women and couples age 25 and up are invited to model old-time swimwear they've bought, borrowed or created.
First and second prizes will be awarded in all three categories for the quaintest and most unique "bathing costumes."
If the hunt for the right bathing suit eludes you, you can always dig into the sand for hidden treasures.
Mr. Adeler of Adeler Jewelry will invest about $10,000 worth of precious gems -- and several predawn hours of his own time -- for the sixth annual Adeler Treasure Hunt. Working under cover of night, he will bury plastic bags containing cards that represent sapphires, amethysts, garnets and other jewels in a 150-by-100-foot plot of inlet beach.
From 11 a.m. to noon on Friday and Saturday, fairgoers will be invited to enter the staked-out area and dig for the buried treasures. Those recovering a card can claim the precious stone represents. But, cautions Mr. Adeler, the contest is open only to those 21 and older.
"We [adults] need a nice excuse to play in the sand," he says, in the melodic accent of his native Argentina. "Either we can go and get a grandson, or we can do this game. It is our excuse to play in the sand."
Contestants line up early for the treasure hunt, and usually the small plot of beach is filled to capacity with more than a thousand gem-diggers. No tools are allowed, but Mr. Adeler encourages contestants to wear garden gloves to protect their hands as they reach into the sand. There are 50 winning cards each day, including a daily grand prize. Mr. Adeler promises that none of the cards is buried under more than a foot of sand.
Competitors of all ages can tee up for prizes in another Sunfest treasure hunt: The fifth annual Sunfest Miniature Golf Tournament at the Treasure Hunt 18-hole golf course at Jolly Roger Park on 30th Street and Coastal Highway. It will take place Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Daily cash prizes will be awarded to the man, woman, boy and girl shooting the lowest score on the course each day during the tourney. Admission is free. For more information, call 289-3477.
Friday at Sunfest is Seafood Day, with crab-picking demonstrations, ragtime music and free crab meat samples courtesy of Phillips seafood restaurants.