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Tale of two Gold Rushes: Greased pigs, tobacco spitting and pie eating coming back to Lumpkin
New festival promising old-fashioned fun
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Ron Cartledge, left, and Charlie Whelchel, organizers of the Old Fashioned Gold Rush, stand on Wednesday, Oct. 17, on the property where they will host the Lumpkin County event. They hope to create a Gold Rush festival that resembles what the event used to be. - photo by Austin Steele
Old Fashion Gold Rush

When: 8 to 11 p.m. Oct. 19, 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Oct. 20, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 21

Where: 279 Radio Road, Dahlonega

How much: Free

More info: Facebook

Greased-up pigs, tobacco-spitting contests, pie eating: Charlie Whelchel remembers what Gold Rush Days used to be.

As years have passed since he attended as a child in the 1960s, Whelchel said it’s become more commercialized — its strayed from its hill country roots, but this year Whelchel set out to change that.

At a festival outside of downtown Dahlonega, he’s bringing back greased-pig wrestling, a tobacco-spitting contest, pie-eating contest and a lot more with Old Fashion Gold Rush.

“This is kind of to give everybody a little memory of what it was like a long time ago,” said Whelchel, one of the organizers for the event.

Old Fashion Gold Rush will start with a concert from Bad Habits at 8 p.m. Oct. 19 and will continue with the festival from 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Oct. 20. A non-denominational church service at 11 a.m. and a concert at 3 p.m. from Dirt Road Disciples Oct. 21 will round out the weekend. There is no charge for the event.

The event is not intended as competition for the Dahlonega Jaycee’s 64th-annual Gold Rush Days Festival, but both events are the same weekend. Instead, Welchel said he thinks they’ll benefit each other.

“People that come down here, they’re going to bleed up to the square and it will help both events,” Whelchel said.

He’s bringing back some of the original activities to the festival and is hoping it brings out some of the people who stopped going to Gold Rush as it is today because they missed those activities.

“(Gold Rush) is kind of more for tourists,” Whelchel said. “We’re trying to do this to get the local people to come back.”

The most exciting event is very likely to be the greased-up pig competition.

“We’re going to grease the pig and the kids will chase it around and try to catch it,” Whelchel said. “Whoever catches the pig, which is going to be very hard to do, can take the pig back home with them or we’ll buy the pig back from them for a small cash prize.”

He assured the pig won’t be hurt, which is why children are the only ones allowed to compete.

Kyle Wade, vice president of the Dahlonega Jaycees and co-chair of Gold Rush said it wasn’t by choice that some of those original events and activities were nixed.

“They’re doing things that we can’t do anymore, and that’s one of those things that we've explained to people,” Wade said. “There’s several things we can’t do because our insurance won't let us do it or the city of Dahlonega has said we can’t do it anymore.”

So Old Fashion Gold Rush was born and Whelchel, along with his friend Ron Cartledge, have been at the head. With a piece of private property on Radio Road, just two miles from the Dahlonega square, Whelchel will be able to put on any event of his choosing.

Along with a competition for who has the longest or most well-groomed beard, children will get to take part in a pie-eating contest. Pie shells will be filled with whipped cream and contestants have to eat the most whipped cream with their hands behind their back before time runs out.

The tobacco-spitting contest is what it sounds like: There will be a target, and whoever has the best aim wins.

Welchel said he’s not trying to compete with Gold Rush, but simply trying to bring back the fond memories he had of what Gold Rush was like when he was growing up. He remembers walking onto the square smelling biscuits being made, sausage and bacon being cooked on wood stoves and churches handing out coffee to visitors. All the items available were handmade.

“Gold Rush was almost like another Christmas,” Whelchel said. “When it came around, we looked forward to it … We really want the people to see what it was like when we were kids and enjoy the things we enjoyed.”

All money raised from an auction featuring items from each vendor and any donations will go to the Shriners. And if the event is successful this time around, Whelchel hopes it will continue and grow for years to come.

“We haven’t had time to do everything that used to go on, but as time goes on, it will get better,” Whelchel said. “And it’s always going to stay free."

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A plot of land outside the city of Dahlonega will host the first-ever Old Fashioned Gold Rush beginning Friday, Oct. 19. The free event is intended to be a return to the roots of the festival. - photo by Austin Steele
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