66 Years And Still Kicking
If you’ve visited Benson this week, you’ve probably already seen a few mules and horses. The small Johnston County town transforms into Mule City every September and this year, for the 66th annual Mule Days celebration, is no different.
There are hundreds of animals – in drive-through lines, trotting down the road, at campsites, in parking lots, everywhere.
“I’ve been to a lot of these, my mother would bring us out here. I’ve been in the parade and at all kinds of events,” said Peggy Williams from Garner.
As a self-described “city girl,” Ms. Williams said she would visit her grandfather, John David Hudson, in Benson often. He participated in Mule Days competitions with his own animals. In fact, he won a blue ribbon prize at the first ever Mule Days in 1950 for his team, she said.
“It’s just a family tradition for me,” she explained. “This is something my mother always brought me. I was raised in the city, but it’s nice to come out here and celebrate all that the mules and horses did for us. We appreciate them.”
Ms. Williams was visiting a small campsite along U.S. 301 just outside town on Thursday morning, speaking with her friends Jeff Lucas of Dunn and Patsy Britt of Benson. Mr. Lucas was tending to a few mules for a local owner.
“This here is Jake. He’ll be in the parade on Saturday,” he said, patting the large brown mule on top of the head.
Jake and another mule with Mr. Lucas named Sam are indeed work animals, he explained, used to plow fields.
“It’s the heritage of all of this,” continued Mr. Lucas about Mule Days. “The history of all that came before and the fellowship of all the people that like the same things. That’s a big part of it, too – the fellowship.”
“I like that it’s something for the whole family,” added Ms. Britt in agreement. “It gets the kids outside and it shows them how things used to be.”
Thursday marked the official start to festivities with carnival rides along Market Street and entertainment on Parrish Drive, behind the Singing Grove. The carnival will be ongoing through Sunday for the duration of Mule Days.
The entertainment in the Singing Grove will continue tonight with music from DJ Hugh Jackson beginning at 7 p.m. on Parrish Drive and the bluegrass twang of The Hinson Girls in the Singing Grove from 6 to 8 p.m.
Today, the mule events will begin at 9:30 a.m. with Mule Judging followed by the annual Mule Race at noon and Mule Pulling after the competition. The events will be held at Chamber Park on J. Lee Road.
Another event that has gained popularity over the years at Mule Days is the rodeo. At 7:30 p.m. tonight and Saturday, the Nowell Smith Arena will host two actionpacked nights of racing, trick riding, bull riding and fun.
In addition to the mule events and rodeo, the Mule Days parade on Saturday has proved to be a crowd favorite as one of the largest lines of businesses, livestock, marching bands, organizations and floats in the area. The procession this year will head down Main Street tossing candy and making noise beginning at 10 a.m.
Alongside the event staples, there will also be an arts and crafts show on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fresh-cooked barbecue will also be available for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday in the Singing Grove.
Admission fees will be $1 per ticket for the carnival or $25 for an unlimited riding wristband. The mule events will be $3 per person, $5 for two people and $1 for children 12 and under. The rodeo will be $15 for ages 6 and older (ages 5 and under will be admitted free) on Friday and Saturday, while Sunday admission will be $5 for ages 6 and older.