This Saturday, an unprecedented event will hit Hamilton. It is thoroughly unique, historically relevant and, most importantly, delicious. What could this special occasion be?
It is none other than the first annual Great Chocolate Wreck: A Sweet Celebration of History. This highly anticipated event will take place this Saturday, September 17, on Lebanon Street, with activities beginning at 9 a.m. and drawing to a close around 6 p.m.
A festival is all well and good, you may be thinking. But what is this great chocolate wreck that everyone is talking about?
The story began on the fateful night of September 27, 1955. The Ontario and Western train was passing through Hamilton on its way to Fullton, New York. Everything seemed to proceed as normal until the train employees on Lebanon Street noticed something strange. They realized that the switch to divert the train to a different set of tracks had been pulled by an unknown person.
With a rising sense of alarm, the employees tried to pull the switch back so that the train would stay on the correct set of tracks, to no avail. The conductor also noticed that the switch had been pulled. He then applied the brake in hopes of slowing down enough before approaching the diversion in the tracks.
But it was not to be-this effort was too little too late, and the train was diverted onto the track leading to the Leland Coal and Oil Company’s coal shed. The train sped on and smashed right through it. It came out the other side and was launched airborne for a few moments before it crashed into the ground.
“The good news was that no one was hurt,” Festival Coordinator Patty von Mechow says “The great news was that the nestle bars and cocoa the train had been transporting were spilled all over the ground!”
The word quickly spread, and Hamilton residents did the only logical thing: they headed over to the site to score some free chocolate.
“The community is rich with this history,” explains von Mechow, who serves as the festival coordinator for the Partnership for Community Development. “People’s faces just light up when we talk about this.”
She then related an anecdote that truly expresses the special place this story has in the hearts of locals. She had been putting up signs in downtown Hamilton to publicize the festival when an elderly woman approached her.
“I was there!” said the woman excitedly, referring to the legendary wreck. She went on to share that she had been a 17 year-old at a slumber party. Someone came in and told the party guests about the wreck, and the girls all piled into a car to drive out to get some chocolate.
“This is a very unique event because it touched people’s lives,” says von Mechow. “People relate to it because they were there and lived through it. Luckily, this particular event had a positive impact on lives. Take into account people’s love for trains, and add a touch of chocolate…”
In order to plan this Great Chocolate Wreck, festival organizers worked with the Hamilton Historical Commission and the Chenango Canal Association to gather information about what happened that night 50 years ago. Local author and train historian John Taibi also aided in the creation of this festival and will be in attendance all day Saturday.
A full day of activities is scheduled in celebration of this event. From 9:00 to 11:30 a.m. there will be a chocolate-drop pancake breakfast at the Colgate Inn. The price will be $8 per adult and $6 per child under 12. The pancakes will be available both with chocolate chips and without.
The proceeds from the breakfast will go to benefit the victims of Hurricane Katrina. As usual, the weekly Farmers’ Market will take place from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., an exhibit related to the wreck will be open to the public at the Hamilton Public Library. The display will include a diorama of the wreck and the site where it occurred.
The Chocolate Wreck will extend into the afternoon. From 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., the Chenango Canal Association will put on an auction with gift certificates and possibly antiques. The Canal Association brought the railway system to central New York.
Items from the Association’s auction can be viewed about an hour before the start of the event. The Association hopes to use the proceeds from the auction to improve the canal system. Although it its current uses vary from previous years, the Association would still like to make recreational improvements such as establishing hiking trails or maintaining the area for kayakers and canoers.
At 2:30 p.m., Taibi will lead a walk to the site where the chocolate wreck too place. People will be able to share their stories about the incident and Taibi will share some information about the wreck. Those interested in participating should report to the Chocolate Wreck History Tent on Lebanon Street shortly before 2:30.
From 3 to 6 p.m., the band Gary Dunes and the Deltunes will be playing some live favorites from the 1950’s. People are encouraged to come to the festival dressed for the fifties.
“We just want people to come, dance in the streets, dress up and have a good time,” says von Mechow.
From 1 to 6 p.m. there will be assorted family games and activities. There will be some brain-twisting mental logic mazes, as well as the usual carnival fair.
At 4 p.m., the winners of the Chocolate Wreck Baking Contest will be announced. Entrants are allowed to make any recipe from scratch as long as it does not require refrigeration and contains chocolate.
Other activities to look forward to are original skits and songs about the great wreck, a crayon mural open to the more artistically inclined, and the mysterious “Who Threw the Switch?” game in the Chocolate Wreck History Tent. Poetry composed by the fourth grade class at Hamilton Central School will be on display. There will also be 4 model train sets provided by the Central New York Chapter of National Railway Historical Society.
Perhaps the most exciting feature of this festival will be a reenactment of sorts of the great wreck of legend: a one-ton dump truck filled with over 5000 fun-size Nestle bars will be spilled onto Lebanon Street for the eating pleasure of all those in attendance. There will also be a sidewalk sale by local vendors. For instance, Maxwell’s will sell chocolate trains and the Colgate Inn will have many specialties, including chocolate martinis (for those old enough to drink, of course).
It is amazing to think that the planning for this event began only a month ago.
“[It’s been] fast and furious just starting to put this together, and that just shows how important to the community it is. Next year we’ll blow everyone away!” stated von Mechow.
“Heck yes, I’m going!” says freshman Jessi Bauer. “I have no idea about it, but I really like chocolate so I’ll check it out. Ice cream seems to be a big thing around here, so I just thought I’d try some chocolate and mix it up.”