"Some of our residents were aware of towns in Bergen County that had festivals," Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner said. "So we went out to Ramsey Day just to see what it was like. We felt it was what we were looking for, something that could enhance our small town character. We wanted our residents to have the opportunity to meet and greet their neighbors, get to know more about the town and everything that the town has to offer."
Thus, the birth of the Weehawken Day Festival, which will be held Saturday, Sept. 20, from 12 noon to 6 p.m. at the Lincoln Harbor Park along the waterfront. In case of rain, the event will be held Sunday, Sept. 21. It will mark the 11th annual festival.
The day's activities are free of charge, provided that residents pre-register to attend at Town Hall prior to the festival. The festival is being held a week earlier than usual this year, in honor of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah
The festival, a highly anticipated tradition that brings out the best in the township's small town flavor and spirit, will feature a variety of activities for every township resident, from infant to senior citizen.
Food, like hot dogs, hamburgers and veggie burgers, will be provided free of charge, as well as soft drinks.
"I think we'll go through 6,000 hot dogs, 3,000 hamburgers and about 1,000 veggie burgers," said Chuck Barone, the township's recreation director and coordinator of the festival. "We'll be cooking all day."
Volunteers from the Weehawken Elks handle the cooking, setting up shop right after dawn and going straight through until dusk.
In fact, approximately 300 to 400 residents have already volunteered their services to work the day.
There will be plenty of rides and attractions for the younger set. A cast of cartoon characters, like Pokemon's Pikachu, Sponge Bob Square Pants and Blue from Blue's Clues will come to life for the youngsters, performing all day. There will be circus performers and face painters galore and a petting zoo, pony rides and a hayride to a pumpkin patch.
There will also be games of chance, with the money going to respective community activities, such as the Weehawken Elks, the Cal Ripken Baseball League and the Youth Football League.
"I think we're going to have the largest variety and the most amount of activities for all ages of kids," Turner said. "There should be fun for all ages. Every single activity in town will be represented, so people can get a complete idea of what Weehawken has to offer. It's an educational day, but it's also a lot of fun."
Another highlight of the afternoon - although Turner might think differently - is the dunk tank, where people can throw baseballs at a target in an attempt to see their favorite people take an unexpected swim.
Turner annually takes an extended stay in the dunk tank, which will raise money for the Weehawken Class of 2004's activities this year.
"It's just wonderful," Turner said with a sarcastic laugh. "I love the dunk tank."
The Weehawken Cultural Affairs Committee will hold their annual Arts and Crafts Festival in conjunction with the Weehawken Day festivities. Some 20 artists will display their finest works for sale.
There will also be the drug and alcohol awareness poster contest, where residents will be asked to vote for the best posters that were created by Weehawken's grade school students.
There will be plenty of music for people of all ages. The Muzzi Band will do a set, while the Robert Scherman Orchestra, under the direction of township resident Susan Scherman, will perform a tribute to the late Bob Hope and to the troops, much to the delight of the senior citizens and those who choose to reminisce the music of yesteryear.
Weehawken native Matt Cheplic will bring his contemporary rock band, called Matt C. Sickness, to the festival this year.
The Weehawken High School marching band will also perform.
Throughout the day, the township's 25 civic organizations will have information tables on display that enable residents to know more about their respective groups.
It is estimated that approximately 4,500 to 5,000 of the township's 13,500 residents will attend the festival.
Funding for the day comes from a special state grant awarded to the Weehawken Against Drugs and Alcohol Alliance.
Transportation to and from the festival is available for those who need it. Buses will leave every 15 minutes from four school sites: Weehawken High School (the Highwood Avenue side), Roosevelt School (the Cooper Place side), Woodrow Wilson School (the Hauxhurst Avenue side) and Webster School (the Palisade Avenue side). The buses will begin transporting passengers at 11:30 a.m., with the last bus leaving at 4:30 p.m. Buses will also be available at various spots around the town as well, but residents are encouraged to go to the school spots to pick up the bus.
There will be transportation for senior citizens from either the senior complex at 525 Gregory Ave. or the Senior Nutritional Center on Highwood Avenue.
Residents are also encouraged to register for the event at Town Hall on Park Avenue, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Proof of residence is required. The residents then receive a card that will enable them to enter the festival. It is essential that the residents pre-register for the event.
"It's very important, because we don't want long lines at the door that prevent people from getting in," Turner said. "When they register, they get a pass with the number of individuals attending and a list of information of what's going on."
Added Turner, "It's an event that brings everyone together. It's enjoyable for everyone. If the weather holds out, it will be a tremendous day. This event epitomizes what Weehawken is all about. It's an event that has grown over the years. It's a successful event that has brought out better crowds each year."
If anyone wishes to volunteer their services for the Weehawken Day Festival, they are encouraged to call Town Hall at (201) 319-6006.