Burying of the hatchet lives on

The traditional hatchet was buried to mark the end of the political campaigns for 2020, as a crowd of about 200 turned out for Thursday’s event on The Circle in Georgetown. Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder

GEORGETOWN — In times of normalcy, the heart of Georgetown and its historic Circle would have been filled with thousands of people Thursday, some sampling ox roast sandwiches and many others experiencing the Sussex County Return Day Parade and other festivities.

But 2020 has been far from normal.

As the COVID-19 pandemic raged on and with some nationwide races — including that for the next president — still undecided 48 hours after Election Day, Sussex County returned to its traditional roots to close the book on this year’s turbulent political season.

Sussex County’s election returns were read on stage by Sussex County Sheriff Robert T. Lee and Sussex County’s political party chairs — Jane Hovington of the Democratic Committee, Don Petitmermet of the Republican Committee, Wolfgang VonBaumgard of the Independent Party of Delaware and Jimmy Brittingham of the Libertarian Party of Delaware — teamed to ceremoniously bury the hatchet in sand and soil taken from various parts of the county.

Thursday’s half-hour ceremony was facilitated by state Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, state Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, and Georgetown Mayor Bill West following the Sussex County Return Day Committee’s decision to cancel this year’s gala two-day event due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It has been a very unusual year to say the least,” said Rep. Briggs King. “We have experienced, we have endured, and we have survived truly unprecedented times — a pandemic, an unprecedented voter turnout and, still today, an undetermined election outcome in many areas.”

Sussex County Sheriff Robert Lee reads the election results.

“I know it’s not the usual Return Day that we are accustomed to, and I know I am not used to seeing everybody wear these masks. But we’re going to get through this,” said Mayor West. “We need to believe. That’s very important. Let’s all believe.”

Sen. Pettyjohn explained the reason for the scaled-back event.

House Minority Leader Danny Short salutes during the national anthem.

“With the news (that) the traditional Return Day festivities weren’t going to occur (Thursday), the elected officials that represent the Georgetown area started getting lots of phone calls,” he said. “With this contentious election season, the people wanted a ‘Return Day.’ They needed that sense of normalcy and to have this contentious year put behind them.

“Ruth, Bill and I quickly took the charge and decided to put all of this together, for you, because it’s you that we work for,” said Sen. Pettyjohn, adding that Thursday’s ceremony marks the “official close of the 2020 election season, at least here in the best county in the United States — Sussex County!”

Sheriff Lee took the podium first, reading returns certified earlier Thursday morning by the board of canvass in the county’s Superior Court.

“This is an occasion that only we have. I’ve been all over this country, and everybody says, ‘Return Day, what is that?’ Georgetown has it for this county, and it’s awesome,” said Sheriff Lee. “Whether it’s small today or whether it’s as big as it has been in the last few years, it’s still an awesome ceremony.”

Numerous candidates — winners and losers — in this week’s election were on hand for the ceremonies.

State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn speaks to the crowd.

So was Georgetown resident Janice Owens and Laurel’s Larry Milbourn.

“I’m here because it’s part of our history. I’ve participated many years. We used to sell cider and baked goods with the Home Demonstration Club,” said Ms. Owens.

“It’s only in one state. No other place has this. You’ve got to keep some of the traditions going, or we’re going to lose them,” said Mr. Milbourn. “And I like hanging out. You get to see some people who (you) haven’t seen for a while. Let’s throw all the politics aside and just have a good time and be a regular Sussex County person.”

Rep. Briggs King made note of women’s suffrage and the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which in August 1920 granted American women voting rights.

“In this year that is historic, I would be remiss as the only elected woman serving in the Republican caucus to not make comments about women in this 100th year. For just 100 years ago, women won the right to vote,” she said. “Today, I am wearing my boots. My boots are symbolic for taking bold steps and remembering to keep moving forward. Today, women may not only vote but they hold office and they play a valuable role at all levels in our nation and in the world.”

Rob Arlett, Delaware campaign director for Donald Trump’s re-election, hugs defeated Republican gubernatorial candidate Julianne Murray.

Mayor West saluted veterans in attendance.

“If it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t be able to do the things we do,” he said.

Noting that, due to COVID-19, this was an incredibly difficult campaign year with the “absence of hugs and handshakes,” Sheriff Lee closed with these words: “Whatever happens, God is in control. That should give us peace.”