Photo by Kim Ladd/Lifescapes Photography
Among the many partyers delving into the Roaring Twenties spirit at Saturday's edition of Speak Easy Nights held in Panther Mountain Pub during Chestertown’s smash Rum-Runners Weekend, were (front, left to right): Janine Best, Wesley Butler Jr. of Brant Lake and Denice Morrisseau of Chester — as they watched the Charleston dance contest.
Visitors to Chestertown this weekend — who encountered men in fedoras, women in flapper dresses, and vintage sedans — may have wondered if they’d been hijacked in a time machine.
This sedate rural town hosted hundreds of revelers Friday Sept. 13 through Sunday Sept. 14 for the festive events of Rum-Runners’ Weekend, which celebrated the exuberance and frivolity of the Roaring Twenties.
Restaurants and other venues were jam-packed for the weekend, the first of its kind over a half-century or so for Chestertown.
“The whole weekend was an unbelievable success —This town was rocking all weekend,” local resident Cindy Mead said a day after the events wound down. Mead, along with other members of the Tri-Lakes Business Alliance, planned the weekend.
Bootlegger chase, vintage sports games
On Saturday morning, 23 antique cars and hundreds of spectators participated in a mock police pursuit of a rum-runner’s vintage sedan over Landon Hill Road. In this re-enactment, a Model A Ford filled with bootleg whiskey barrels was chased by a vintage police car. The procession included state Troopers as escorts.
The rum-runner chase was followed by a Babe Ruth Battle of the Bats home run derby, in which 123 children and adults participated, while old-time baseball music echoed across the town recreation field. Poul Carstensen and Mark Sissons pitched balls to the contestants, and local girl scouts held a bake sale at the field.
Vaudeville/burlesque show ‘busted’
A vaudeville/burlesque show held Saturday afternoon at the Carol Theatre in Chestertown was a sellout. A variety of acts were featured, whether it was entertainers in 1920s garb singing vintage songs, dancing, or cracking jokes to the delight of the standing-room-only crowd of 275 people or more. The show, organized by Al Tolomeo, included jazz music of his ensemble as well as 25-cent bags of popcorn provided by local Boy Scouts.
Just as a burlesque act started during the show, mock “federal agents” armed with billy clubs and flashlights raided the theater in an attempt to take “bootlegger” Don Butler into custody — but they at first nabbed decoy Don Stewart, until the crowd “ratted out” Butler and he was dragged away.
After the show, Circle B Ranch provided free horse-drawn carriage rides around town to various destinations including area restaurants, which were offering $19.25 dinner specials.
Crowd parties during Speak Easy Nights
Two ‘Speak Easy’ events held Friday and Saturday nights at the Panther Mountain Pub were extremely popular, as the venue hosted wall-to-wall people, Mead said.
“You couldn’t even walk into the pub, it was so jam-packed,” Mead said.
Admission to the pub required patrons to whisper the not-so-secret phrase “Donnie sent me” to the bouncer through a small trap door in the entry door, donated by Stephenson Lumber and specially outfitted by McCluskey’s Hardware.
Nearly all those attending were in Roaring Twenties costumes, and the party was as exuberant as any held nearly a century ago, Mead said.
“It was wonderful...crazy — People were dressed as gangsters, flappers and temperance women,” Mead said.
She added that people from age 21 through 85 partied with gusto.
“Everyone got into it —The younger set wore their great-grandfather’s three-piece suits, fedoras, white ties and suspenders, while the seniors brought clothes out of their closets that their parents may have worn.”
Providing 1920s music was the Jive Five jazz band. Charleston dance contests highlighted both evenings.
Eateries participating over the weekend were The Bullhouse, Hemlock Ledge Restaurant, Luna’s Pizza, Main Street Ice Cream Parlor — all in Chestertown; The Place and O.P. Frederick’s near Loon Lake; and the Black Bear Restaurant of Pottersville. Most of the restaurants had staff dressed in Prohibition-era clothing. Many of the eateries reported the most profitable nights they’ve experienced in years.
Area restaurants jammed with revelers
Most all the restaurants had lines of people waiting outside to be seated. Lonnie Shenefield, proprietor of The Bullhouse restaurant, said she hosted lively crowds both nights, particularly on Saturday.
“Lots of people were gathered at the bar, and every single person was dressed up,” she said, adding her restaurant had vintage jazz-swing music playing during the two evenings. “It was amazing — there was a great spirit.”
Main Street Ice Cream Parlor, with its staff dressed in 1920s garb, also hosted waiting lines. Eatery co-owner Helena Robbins said they offered two mushroom-stuffed meatloaf meals for the $19.25 price along with vegetables grown in their garden — and they were sold out early.
“It was a great week — there was a lot of action in town,” she said. Helena’s daughter Amelia, 14, sang in the vaudeville show, and danced with her friend, Emily Gould. “The event really brought people into the area,” Robbins continued.
Mead said she met people at the weekend’s events from Lake Luzerne, Bolton Landing, North Creek, Warrensburg and elsewhere.
“This has never happened in Chester,” Mead said.
Weekend demonstrates town’s potential
Don Butler, a founder of the Alliance, said the weekend surpassed everyone’s greatest expectations.
“The vaudeville show was spectacular — and it was all local talent,” he said.
Great Gatsby’s brunches were offered Sunday. The celebration ended with a classic car show Sunday afternoon.
Mead and Butler said the Alliance plans to make this a yearly event to promote business and bring notoriety to the North Warren communities.
“The town came alive just like we were hoping,” he said. Shenefield praised the Alliance members for their work.
“I love this downtown revitalization,” she said. “Our town has so much potential — And there’s so much energy and passion dedicated to bringing Chestertown alive.”