Chris Goebel fills drinks and keeps the grill covered with bacon-wrapped hot dogs at the Frankfort Preservation Society's food tent during Fall Fest, August 31, 2014. | Allen Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 2, 2014 9:59AM
Ten-year-old Sydney Hooten was hoping the Frankfort Fall Festival would help her get a new smartphone.
She came up with the idea of turning the yard of the family’s house, just a couple of blocks from the fest, into a paid parking lot to raise money toward the purchase of a phone. They had, at $10 apiece, about 15 cars Saturday and another 18 on Sunday, plus she and family members were selling cold bottles of water for a buck.
Whether she gets the phone was “still to be determined,” Sydney’s mom, Lisa, cautioned, but the parking lot on East Bowen will still be in operation for the fest’s final day on Monday.
With thousands of people streaming into the fest Sunday, there was ample opportunity for Sydney to pick up a few more bucks. Now in its 46th year, the event draws 250,000 people, according to organizers, and folks who remember the fest’s early days continue to be amazed at how it has swelled to epic proportions.
Marvin Lehnert used to live in Frankfort — he’s since moved to Minooka — and remembers when the fest occupied the grounds of the grade school near his home.
“It has grown and grown and grown,” he said.
Sitting on blankets along Nebraska Street awaiting the start of the parade while his grandchildren — 5-year-old Ayden and his sister, 16-month-old Autumn — ran around nearby, Lehnert said the parade remains his favorite part of the festival.
“If we come over, we come on parade day,” he said.
Terry Waldron has watched the fest grow over the years, and also is part of a fest tradition for her neighborhood around the intersection of Nebraska and Walnut.
She moved into her house at the northeast corner of the intersection in 1998, and said “that first summer we were here in 1999 we didn’t have air conditioning and it was like about 103 degrees.”
Neighbor kids across the street to the south were tossing water balloons after the parade, and “we asked them to throw some our way to cool us off,” Waldron said.
That begat a tradition that to this day involves a massive cross-street water balloon-tossing battle that follows the parade that passes along their homes.
“Our biggest year we had 7,000 balloons, but we’ve scaled it back since,” Waldron said.
Signs warning the innocent passers-by that they’re walking into what could be a wet and messy war are posted in yards, and the annual event draws plenty of spectators, she said.
“We have people crammed in here,” Waldron said.
The parade wasn’t on the mind of everyone who came Sunday. With 280 arts and crafts vendors, the festival is, for some, as much a shopping destination as anything.
Amy Dickel said she was last at the festival a few years ago and on Sunday was trying to get a head start on her Christmas shopping.
“If I can knock three or four people off my list I’ll be happy,” she said.
Stan Smithers and his wife, Dorothy, were also browsing among the rows of vendors. They hadn’t been to the fest in about 10 years.
“When we were in New Lenox we’d come every year, but we moved to Colorado 10 years ago and just came back (to the area) last year,” Dorothy Smithers said.
She said the size of the fest in the years she has been away amazed her.
“I can’t believe how big it’s gotten,” she said. “It seems like twice the size since the last time we were here.”
Vendors had traveled from states such as Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Tennessee, Wisconsin and even Florida.
Jim Carr, who lives in southwest Missouri, brought his collection of handmade wood toys up to Frankfort, the fifth time he’s been at the Labor Day weekend event.
“This is a real good fest for me,” Carr, 74, said. “There’s babies everywhere.”
He first started making toys 28 years ago for his granddaughter, and “it grew out of hand,” he said.
Carr said he spends anywhere from 20 to 40 hours a week crafting toys, and last year he traveled to more than 17 fests selling his work.
“This is all I do,” Carr said.