One Sweet Day in Hamilton: Great Chocolate Wreck Festival Celebrates Local History



Tory Glerum

Hamilton celebrated history the sweet way Saturday with trains, music and tons of chocolate during the Great Chocolate Wreck Festival, which took place on the Village Green from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Sponsored by the Partnership for Community Development (PCD), an organization devoted to sustaining economic opportunity and community vitality in Hamilton and surrounding areas, the festival commemorated the Great Chocolate Wreck of September 27, 1955, when two boxcars of Nestle chocolate products were spilled off a southbound New York Ontario & Western (O&W) train.

The day began with a Chocolate Wreck skit put on by the Madison Summer Drama Club and a historic tour of the wreck site on Lebanon Street guided by local train historian and noted author John Taibi.

The unveiling and dedication of a new historic sign took place at the wreck site shortly thereafter with the support of Hamilton Historic Commission, the Village of Hamilton, Parry’s and Earthworks design studio.

Back on the green, Phil Edwards, a member of the Central New York Chapter of the National Railway Historical society, stood nearby an immense operating model train provided for viewing by the organization. He said the model was authentic enough to represent the type of engine that would have run through Hamilton at the time of the Great Chocolate Wreck.

“People came up and said they remembered the 1955 event and all the old trains,” Edwards said.

Al Edwards, another volunteer, said he was 13 when the wreck happened.

“The train went up the coal ramp, flew through the Leland Coal Shed and dropped into somebody’s garden,” Edwards said. “Chocolate was all over the ground and kids were there loading up their wagons.”

A reenactment of this same spill occurred at the festival later in the day as pi?natas in the shape of the 1955 train zipped down a line and spilled treats on the green for collecting and tasting.

A number of other fun and delicious activities were set up for small children, including a bean bag toss, a train car to climb in, a chocolate finger painting station and a plastic pool filled with wood shavings and buried chocolate treats to dig for. Families could also watch local artist Deb Whitman carve a replica of the historic New York O&W train into a huge block of chocolate. She even let hungry on-lookers share the edible shavings.

One Hamilton resident said his son was having a great time diving for chocolate in the pool and looking at the model train.

“The festivals really do a lot for adults and kids,” he said. “We get coffee and they get to play.”

Festival goers could learn more about Hamilton history and purchase maps and postcards at the Hamilton Historical Commission and Chenango Canal Association tents.

They also satisfied their appetites with baked goods and drinks for sale at the Caketastrophe Bakery and Barge Canal Coffee Company stands and chocolate ice offered by a Hawaiian shaved-ice truck stationed on the green across from the library.

Live musicians provided tunes in half-hour stints throughout the day from a microphone set up on the central gazebo. Performances began at 10:00 a.m. with jazz and harmonica player Will Galison, who shared an original song commemorating the Great Chocolate Wreck. Next was young performer Juliana Slocum, who wowed the audience by belting out Broadway show tunes. Acoustic folk singers Merill Amos and Emilia Failing and Pop and Jazz vocalist Zainep Abdelaal continued to fill the air with melodies into the afternoon.

Junior Sachi Schuricht said she came down to the festival because she thought it would be a fun taste of small-town life in Hamilton.

“I thought there would be more free chocolate, but I was pleasantly surprised by the musical stylings,” Schuricht said.

Sophomores Samantha Horn and Jessica Mawhirt volunteered at the festival as a philanthropy activity for their sorority, Gamma Phi Beta.

“I love kids and chocolate, so helping out with kid’s games at a chocolate festival sounded like fun,” Horn said.

The PCD sponsors three other festivals in downtown Hamilton annually, including Cabin Fever, Music Mix and Storybook Holiday. According to their website, the festivals provide opportunities for people to learn about different cultures, gain new experiences, gather with friends, create special memories and enrich their lives and the quality of the greater Hamilton community.

“The PCD’s three partners are the town, the village and Colgate University,” Festival coordinator Patricia von Mechow said. “Our festivals are part of the effort to bring people to the area and provide fun for the local community.”