The return of a Moravia tradition next weekend will once again give new meaning to the term "good, clean fun."
The first Fillmore Days in about 20 years, and the event's headlining bathtub races, will take place Saturday, Aug. 10, at Fillmore Glen State Park outside the village.
Joshua Marnell, chair of Friends of Fillmore Glen State Park, said the races began as a riff on the famous hoax that Moravia native and 13th President Millard Fillmore installed the first bathtub in the White House. For years, drivers sped down Main Street in tubs mounted on steel frames with caster wheels, the ones that spin 360 degrees. They steered the makeshift racers with plungers.
"It was an event made for fun," Marnell said. "I remember people packing the street side, tubs going every which way down the road. A lot of happy people."
The last few years of the race took place on a closed-off side street, Marnell continued. Then, in either 1999 or 2000, a pedestrian strayed into the course and was struck by a bathtub. Marnell, who was about 12 at the time, said it was the only injury he ever saw at the races. Regardless, that was the last year they took place. Revivals were attempted in 2012 and 2013, but unsuccessfully.
Marnell began trying to revive the races about four years ago, he said. The village declined because of a combination of permitting, closing down roads and liability, he said. But when he pitched the idea to his fellow members of Friends of Fillmore Glen State Park, they saw a way to both restore a local tradition and bring people to the park for a day of fun.
"I couldn't convince the trustees, but they told me they're looking forward to the comeback and would love to see it happen," he said.
Saturday's races will take place on a flat stretch of road inside the park, which will be lined with hay bales for safety. So far, Marnell said, 18 racers have signed up for the three heats: cast-iron tubs, fiberglass tubs and custom creative tubs. The third heat features tubs made of anything the drivers want — and they do get creative, Marnell said. Meanwhile, some will bring the tubs they raced 20 years ago. And though many drivers will come from the village area, others, like the Powerful Porcelain Pushers, will bring 70 people to Moravia all the way from New Jersey.
Winners will be determined by course times — no bathtubs race simultaneously, Marnell said. Trophies will be awarded for first, second and third place in each class, and all participants will receive ribbons. Additional honors include the Down the Drain Award, for the bathtub that has the most trouble finishing, as well as Furthest Distance Traveled and more.
Although the bathtub races have been a popular spectator sport in Moravia, they're far from all that Fillmore Days has to offer. The weekend will open with an outdoor movie night with "Wonder Park" Friday at Powers Library, Marnell said. On Saturday, after the 11 a.m. bathtub parade and races at noon, other festivities begin at 2 p.m. There will be live music by Perform 4 Purpose, Rob Irving of Raised on Radio and Drew Kiddo and the Blackouts, as well as food trucks, arts and crafts vendors, beverages from Salt Point Brewing, Grisamore Cider Works and Chateau Duseau, and more.
Fillmore Days will take place rain or shine, Marnell said.
"After all," he said, "we are racing in bathtubs."