Over the weekend, The Claxton Enterprise staff once again covered what has become a defining event for Evans County, the 50th Rattlesnake and Wildlife Festival. Saturday dawned with cool temperatures and blue skies. Taking advantage of a beautiful spring day, folks ventured out for the parade in downtown Claxton and then headed to the festival grounds in Hagan.
The festival, originally known as the Rattlesnake Roundup, has garnered attention statewide over the years, attracting well-known politicians, beauty queens and celebrities. And, since 1967, The Enterprise has been here for it all – covering the formation of the Evans County Wildlife Club, their organization of the first festival and each one to follow as well as the history behind the festival. Local boy, David Wiggins was severely bitten by a rattler in ‘67.
Through the years, most news items regarding the festival appear as front page articles. As early as January each year, news of the Rattlesnake and Wildlife Festival began to appear in each weekly edition.
In an article recapping the Roundup’s history for the fifth year of the festival in 1972, a TCE writer noted that perhaps no one took the men who started the Roundup seriously that first year, but by year five, the event was one of the largest attractions in the area.
Fred Eden, Enterprise Editor when the Roundup first began, penned a column about covering the first Roundup. “It was a strange feeling to be inside that fence with so many poisonous rattlers so near, and it made cold chills run up and down my spine to have to turn my back to them,” he wrote.
“The last time I had met a rattler, I was on the business end of a fence rail, using it to send him to snake heaven, and I was plenty glad it was a long railing. And here I was on intimate terms with 48 of the things. Everything I tried to do with the camera was wrong. Shook up is the only way to describe it,” Eden continued.
But, Eden, ever the dedicated journalist, persevered. He climbed into the cage for close up pictures of the snakes.
I recalled Eden’s words Saturday afternoon while zooming my camera lense in on an angry, rattling Eastern Diamondback. Perfectly at ease behind two layers of wire fencing and several feet removed, I can say with assurance I would not have been nearly as dedicated a journalist as Eden had the fencing not separated me from the hefty snake!
Climbing into the snake pit at that first festival wasn’t Eden’s only close contact with snakes while covering the Roundup. In 1970, Eden again had a frightening encounter with a snake. Seeking a good angle for a photo during the traditional snake hunt the morning of the festival, Eden kicked up a black snake that slithered into a nearby snake hole … “while the Editor sought the remains of his scared dignity,” the front page article noted. Again, under similar circumstance, this editor would have turned in her camera, press pass and boots on the spot.
In 1973, The Claxton Enterprise published a special section featuring the activities and happenings of the festival and has continued to do so every year since. The very first special section was slated to publish on March 8, 1973.
Last week, exactly 45 years later, the Enterprise’s special section again published on March 8. If you didn’t get your copy, stop by the office and we’ll fix you up!
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