On May 26th, 2012 approximately 3,000 people braved the 92° temperatures to attend the First Annual MoonPie in the Smokies Festival, held in Newport Tennessee at the A&I Fairgrounds and sponsored by Pepsi, the Cocke County Partnership, Chattanooga Bakery and 92.3 WNPC radio.
In many respects it was your typical country fair: there were food, drink and memorabilia vendors, there was a car show, there was a cornhole tournament, there were inflatable bouncy things for the kids to play in, there was a giant sand pile to dig in, the fire department sent a pumper truck to spray water in an area where folks could go to cool off. The local grammar school kids put on a musical comedy called The Unknown Salesman honoring Mr. Earl Mitchell Sr. inventor of the iconic Southern snack; the MoonPie, which featured – naturally – dancing MoonPies: the MoonPiettes. But the guests of honor were The World’s Largest MoonPie, Anna Pratt; granddaughter of Mr. Mitchel, and Ron Dickson author of The Great MoonPie Handbook.
Ms. Pratt lives in Gatlinburg TN but frequently comes to Newport to put flowers on the grave of her grandfather (Mitchell) who is buried in Union Cemetery. When asked if her grandfather had received any royalties from his invention she replied, “Not a penny.” But his creation has spread joy across the South for generations; every self-respecting Southerner knows that a MoonPie and an RC Cola is the greatest snack on the planet.
Ron Dickson, author of The MoonPie Handbook – currently in its second printing, says the contents were originated by a group of computer programmers who sat around over lunch and “developed the history, customs and noble traditions of the MoonPie…. most of it we made up.” Published in 1985, the Handbook and a box of MoonPies were sent out to 250 media outlets around the country and the resulting front page stories brought this Southern favorite to national attention. Mr. Dickson, a founding member of the MoonPie Cultural Club, has continued to be the Goodwill Ambassador for the MoonPie. Each month Chattanooga Bakery sends him a case of MoonPies which he distributes along his travels and he reinforces the memory of the MoonPie, its origins and its lore. His efforts are often imaginative. During one famous (and drawn-out) court battle (the Jim Bakker trial), Dickson appeared dressed as the cartoon character Reverend Will B. Dunn and handed out MoonPies to the crowd awaiting a verdict on the courthouse steps.
Chattanooga Bakery, which produces the snack in six flavors and as regular, double-decker and mini, has the capacity to produce one million MoonPies daily. Since their inception, MoonPies have gone from being just one of over 250 confections Chattanooga Bakery produced to being their primary product. More information about this line of products is available from the official MoonPie web site.
For the uninitiated, a MoonPie is a pastry consisting of two round graham cracker cookies, with marshmallow filling in the center, dipped in chocolate, banana, or coconut coatings. The traditional pie is about four inches in diameter. A smaller version, the mini MoonPie, is about half the size and a Double-Decker MoonPie of the traditional diameter features a third cookie and second layer of marshmallow. Double Decker MoonPies come in the four main flavors and in lemon and orange.
Marie and I were there as volunteers and were assigned to help out in the main pavilion. Here we tag-teamed as security for the World’s Largest MoonPie. The Chattanooga Bakery brought this custom crafted, 32 inch diameter, 30 pound confectionery 160 miles across the state of Tennessee for this event. While the display stand did have dry ice concealed in the bottom to keep it from getting sticky in the heat, it did not have a cover to prevent avid fans from pillaging a bite. We were to stand watch and growl at anyone who got too close, especially if their eyes got as large as MoonPies when they saw this gargantuan snack. While there were a few whose did, most were quite respectful. Many photos were taken and quite a few comments overheard of, “Man…this is going on my Facebook page right now!”
At mid-afternoon there was a MoonPie eating contest. This involved the regular, commercial sized MoonPies, not the giant one (that was cut up and served afterward). Twenty five folks participated in the contest. The winner, Keith France of Newport, stuffed down 9 regular MoonPies in three minutes. His prize: $50.00, a box of MoonPies, and bragging rights.
When not staring down the crowd gathering to ogle the giant pie, Marie helped with crowd control at the play entrance and I was personal aide to author Ron Dickson, a fascinating fellow from the shores of Lake Norman in North Carolina. The Great MoonPie Handbook was actually born as a morale lifter at the computer software company where he worked in the mid 1980’s. I’ll provide details on that and much more when I do my review of his book. I’ll also do a Way Back Whensday post to enlighten you on the history of this favorite snack of the South and it’s inventor who, were it not for Mr. Dickson, would have been lost to the sands of time.
Early in the afternoon a mouse, delirious from the summer heat, wandered into the pavilion and sought shelter under the table holding the giant MoonPie. You’d have thought it was a bear the way most of the crowd reacted. Most, but not all. The poor creature was so stressed that it just sat there panting when one fellow sat his packaged MoonPie and a bottle of RC Cola next to the mouse, who obligingly posed for the photograph. When it caught its breath and began moving again several guys tried to herd it back outside, but the mouse was uncooperative. I think it was waiting to see the MoonPie eating contest – or perhaps to participate. Off-duty County Sheriff Armondo Fontez came to the rescue by cutting the top from a drinking water bottle to capture the little guy and transport him to a shady treeline a safe distance away.
By the time Marie and I left the festival, we were witnesses to at least one world record, had seen dancing MoonPies, got to see Sheriff Armondo invent “bottled mouse”, I made a new author friend and learned tons about a variety of subjects from him, I had an autographed copy of his book inscribed, “Doug, a true southern gentleman and author. Best wishes, Ron Dickson” and we came away with a pair of oh-so-stylish MoonPie festival tee shirts (which were given to all staff members so we would be identifiable).
All in all a very satisfying day.