By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — It was the kind of weather they must have in heaven.
Only, they had it in Peabody yesterday, and despite competition from the televised Red Sox and Patriots, it drew thousands to Peabody Square for the 30th annual International Festival. Music, dance and a mouth-watering variety of ethnic dishes are meant to celebrate Peabody’s diverse population, but this party has long attracted people from outside the city, even outside the North Shore.
“The International Festival is a very important part of our city,” Mayor Ted Bettencourt told the throng — at least he told those who could be lured away from the food stands. “We have to do even more in the years to come,” he added.
Crafts and artworks were also on display and for sale at the International Festival Galleria. Under clear blue skies, kids carried balloons and had their faces painted at the Leather City Common. Politicians shook hands. And entertainers worked two main stages, with some ethnic dancers in traditional dress on the agenda.
“We got a pretty good crowd because of the weather,” said Peabody police Lt. William Cook. “Several thousand people.” Moreover, as of 5:30 p.m., he hadn’t heard of any problems associated with the event. “Everything’s gone smoothly.”
“I’ve been coming here since I was little,” said Maria Fenn, who carried her infant daughter, Alexandra, as niece Penelope Spack blew bubbles nearby. “This is exciting.” She gestured to the happy crowds surging past in an area on Lowell Street closed to traffic and bounded by Peabody Square and the Leather City Common entrance. “We’ve had a good time.”
At a booth for the Peabody High School girls varsity hockey team, the players saw an opportunity to raise funds selling “Whoopie (Pies) Pucks” and to get the word out.
“Most of the people who come up don’t even know we have a girls hockey team,” Jonalyn Carpenter said.
The girls rectified that, noted Emilia Higinbotham and Jillian McCormick.
“And we’ve been selling a lot,” Higinbotham said.
A trio of Hannaford Supermarket employees sold snacks under an awning near City Hall for Mike’s Wish, a charity named in honor of Mike Visone of Peabody, who died in 2008 of Huntington’s Disease. Funds go to efforts to find a cure.
“He used to work with us,” Alexandra Snowe said. “And he passed away at 23.” In his memory, the Hannaford team collected $300 by early afternoon.
“It’s been a great day,” said Catie Chapman, as some foods were sold out.
“It’s a great turnout,” City Clerk Tim Spanos said as he offered International Festival sweaters at a nearby booth. Looking at all the happy the faces he concluded, “Everything’s great.”
The International Festival was scheduled to begin on Friday with the We Are America Performers at City Hall. The annual International Road Race for Progeria Research was open to anyone on Saturday, and Restaurant Week, featuring discounts and unique menus, will continue to be celebrated from Sept. 8 to 12 and 19 to 22.
Staff writer Alan Burke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.