Monson cancels holiday festivities

By Billy Baker
Globe Staff / July 3, 2011

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In a typical year, there is no bigger event in Monson than Summerfest, the annual July Fourth extravaganza that turns Main Street into a festival of Americana straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting, complete with a frog-jumping competition and a soapbox derby.

This is no ordinary year in Monson.

Just over a month ago, when a tornado tore through town and left a trail of destruction, officials vowed that Summerfest would go on, despite the catastrophe.

But organizers have canceled the event, which began in 1979 and can draw as many as 15,000 people to the town of 8,500 residents. Monson’s annual fireworks display, which was scheduled for last weekend, was also canceled.

“There was a lot of sadness when I announced the cancellation of Summerfest,’’ said Steve Slozak, the event’s chairman. “People were looking at it as something to bring the town together, but our town was brought together by that tornado.’’

Summerfest is not the only Fourth of July celebration to be affected by the tornadoes that struck Massachusetts on June 1. Old Sturbridge Village was forced to cancel its fireworks display, scheduled for tonight. A tornado touched down on the property of the historic village, damaging some minor buildings and clogging the nearby Quinebaug River with debris, causing it to flood the launch site for the fireworks.

Jim Donahue, chief executive of the village, said upward of 6,000 visitors had been expected for the fireworks event, which is popular because the village has almost no light pollution.

All other programming will continue that day, Donahue said.

Springfield, which was also hit by the tornadoes, said its fireworks display will still be held.

In Monson, Slozak said it was a tough decision to cancel Summerfest - which typically features a parade, a beer garden, two live music venues, rides for children, and dozens of booths along Main Street. But, he said, several people on the organizing committee lost their homes to the tornadoes, traffic patterns were still a mess in town because of tornado debris, and it didn’t feel right to ask the already-overworked highway and fire departments to set up for the event.

Slozak said the town is hoping to reschedule its fireworks display for Labor Day weekend.

Billy Baker can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.