Traditional staples, marquee attractions on parade during Return Day

GEORGETOWN — Return Day, Sussex County’s unique bi-annual post-election tradition dating to the 18th century, hits the heart of Georgetown Thursday, Nov. 8 with a gala parade and ceremonies capping a celebration that begins the night before.

The biannual event typically draws thousands of people to The Circle and downtown Georgetown.

“We are hoping for good weather,” said Sussex County Return Day Committee President Debby Jones. “We just want everybody to come out and have a good time and enjoy the event.”

Return Day 2018 features longtime staples and some marquee attractions, perhaps most notably parade participation by an official Wells Fargo four-horse stagecoach team and the legendary United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps.

On parade — starting at 1:30 p.m. sharp — will be dignitaries and candidates in horse-drawn carriages and classic automobiles, Delaware State University’s high-energy, high-stepping “Approaching Storm” Marching Band, the U.S. Army Old Guard and Delaware State Police Pipe and Drum Band.

And strike up the band for a first in Return Day history as the University of Delaware Blue Hen Marching Band will make its debut. “I have been after them to come for the last three Return Days,” Mr. Bowden said.

The parade also will feature bands from Cape Henlopen, Indian River, Delmar, Sussex Central, Woodbridge, Sussex Tech, Smyrna, Seaford and Holy Cross high schools.

“That is a big story. To be able to get that many bands is a good thing,” said Mr. Bowden. “We have received a lot of favorable comments that we are having that many bands this year.”

Return Day, believed to be totally unique to Sussex County, dates to the late 18th century. Roots were planted with state law in 1791 that removed the county seat from coastal Lewes to a more geographically-centered site, later named Georgetown, and required all votes cast to be in the new county seat on election day.

Two days later, voters would “return” to hear the results read by the town crier.

While the date of the first actual Return Day is uncertain, it could date back to as early as 1792, the year after state law changed the location of the county seat.

Return Day Parade Grand Marshal is Sussex County Councilman George Cole, who in his 32nd consecutive year on council is retiring as the longest-serving council member in Sussex County history.

Honorary Parade Grand Marshals are retiring State Rep. Harvey Kenton, State Sen. Gary Simpson and Auditor of Accounts R. Thomas Wagner.

The Wells Fargo Stagecoach will carry special cargo: the hatchet and sand from coastal Lewes — Sussex County’s initial county seat — for the ceremonial hatchet burial by political leaders on the main stage. The burial of the hatchet officially marks the end to the political season in Delaware.

Riding as VIPs on the Wells Fargo Stagecoach will be Aaron and Brooke Lyons and their son Ryker, who has Duchene Muscular Dystrophy. Ryker recently completed his second year of a clinical drug trial targeting the disease and will soon begin a third.

“It’s very exciting,” said Ms. Lyons of the stagecoach ride.

Ms. Jones said, “This young gentleman certainly has had a lot going on and we’re just hoping that this brings a little bright spot to him.”

An ageless symbol of reliability and connectivity, the Wells Fargo stagecoach has a deep history in the First State. Wells Fargo first operated in Delaware in 1914. At that time, Delawareans came to their Wells Fargo agent to get travelers checks, send money by telegraph and order express package delivery service. These deliveries were many times carried out by stagecoach.

Additionally, stagecoaches connected people in distant places and in many towns the Wells Fargo stagecoach played the critical role of carefully carrying voters’ ballots to be counted at the state capital.

“We are excited to feature the Wells Fargo Stagecoach in this year’s Sussex County Return Day parade. Given its rich history, it will be the perfect addition to the antique carriages featured in the parade,” said Ms. Jones. “And that is kind of what Return Day is about – keeping that old alive. So, we’re very fortunate to get them because they are not always readily available.”

Other Return Day highlights include:

• Sussex County native Kirk Lawson, in tops and tails, returns as the town crier for a third Return Day to read the election returns from the courthouse balcony;

•Cape Henlopen High School graduate Col. Terry W. Austin will give the invocation. Col. Austin is presently Command Chaplin of the Military District of Washington D.C., which includes Arlington Cemetery;

• Soloist for ceremonies, including the National Anthem, on The Circle is Lilymay Border, a 15-year-old Georgetown girl;

• 2018 Return Day Ambassador is Wyatt Warner, a Georgetown Middle School student. For his assigned project, Wyatt has been collecting items for the Joshua House Ministries in support of those homeless;

On the schedule

The morning of Return Day at 9 a.m. is the Hatchet Toss, where mayors and elected representatives take aim in a friendly competition on the grounds of the nearby Old Sussex Courthouse.

At 9:30 a.m. dignitaries will gather for a VIP reception at Delaware Technical Community College.

Arts, crafts and vendors open at 8:30 a.m. Entertainment starts at 9:30 a.m. on the main stage, leading up to the parade.

Return Day festivities get a jump start Wednesday, Nov. 7 as entertainment takes center-stage with four acts performing for five fours.

The Jones Boys kick it off from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., followed by Junior Sisk from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., Big Hat No Cattle from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., Junior Sisk back again from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. and The Funsters from 9:30 to 10:30 p.m.

Junior Sisk is a late replacement for Danny Paisely & Southern Grass.

Wednesday evening, the ox will be in the pit for overnight roasting under the direction the Return Day Ox Committee chaired by Mark Pettyjohn. Free open pit beef sandwiches will be available in front of Chancery Court following Thursday’s parade and ceremonies.


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