The Weirdest Summer Tradition in Every State
Wisconsin, we have some questions about "cow chips!"
It’s no secret that Americans look forward to summertime. The season’s requisite beaching, boating, and barbecuing are timeless traditions that are hard to top. But each state has its own summertime activities that are a bit more unique—and in some cases, just plain weird.
For instance, in Wisconsin, people competitively hurl patties of dried cow dung. And in one North Carolina town, residents start rummaging for their favorite Christmas tree toppers in the middle of July. In other states, people worship headless chickens and bovines built out of butter. Clearly, there’s something about the ticked-up mercury that gets to people’s heads.
Herein, we’ve compiled the most bizarre traditions that have cropped up in America’s 50 states and persisted, summer after summer. Prepare to be astonished by the crazy summertime customs your fellow citizens have cooked up.
Alabama: Dive into the Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo.
Every year, 75,000 spectators attend the world’s largest fishing tournament, the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo. Locals and tourists alike have been gathering at Alabama’s Dauphin Island every summer since 1929 to watch more than 3,000 fishermen (and fisherwomen) compete for a range of fish-wrangling prizes during a three-day tournament.
Alaska: Toss each other toward the sky with blankets.
Alaskan Native Americans celebrate the successful culmination of whale-hunting season in June with a death-defying activity: blanket tossing. This activity is part of the Nalukataq Festival (also known as the Barrow Whaling Festival), which takes place annually around the summer solstice. Folks are launched to remarkable heights using a blanket made of seal skins.
Arizona: Fry eggs on the sidewalk.
Hey, the concrete is hot enough, so why not crack an egg and give it a go? The town of Oatman in Arizona has turned sidewalk egg-frying into a full-fledged sport, celebrating its 28th year of competition in 2018. The panel of judges distributes awards to the oldest and youngest egg fryers, as well as to the cooker with the most-fried egg and the one who demonstrates the best showmanship while bringing their yolk to a sizzle, according to the Mohave Valley Daily News.
Arkansas: Spit watermelon seeds.
Sure, your state might have watermelon-eating contests, but do they also compete to see who can shoot those tiny black seeds the farthest? That’s what the residents of Hope, Arkansas, have done every August, since the 1920s, in the Hope Watermelon Contest. There’s also a 5K race, a dog show, and a so-called “Watermelon Idol” talent show. (To be honest, we’re still not exactly sure what that entails.)
California: Celebrate garlic like it’s a god.
Every summer, California residents gather to celebrate the bane of vampires’s existence via the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival. (For proof, just take a look at this monolithic garlic bulb monument.) At the fest, true diehard fans can find the most odious and niche of garlic-flavored foods: garlic-flavored ice cream.
Colorado: Worship a headless chicken.
Every June, Coloradans come together to remember the bizarre, but true story of Mike, the Headless Wonder Chicken. As the story goes, after Mike’s owner botched his attempt to prepare him for dinner, Mike thrived for 18 more months without a head. The annual festivities in Mike’s memory take place in Fruita, Colorado, and include a poultry show and a rooster calling contest.
Connecticut: Take a ferry to Sherlock Holmes’ castle.
Yes, we know the pipe-smoking detective was British and fictitious—bear with us. The actor who brought Sherlock Holmes to life, William Gillette, used part of his fortune to build a castle on the Connecticut River featuring 24 rooms with “puzzle locks, secret doors, and even hidden mirrors,” as historian Emily E. Gifford put it.
Years later, in 1943, the state of Connecticut purchased the property and designated it a state park. Now, Gillette’s castle is open to the public Memorial Day through Labor Day, and visitors are encouraged to take a 250-year-old historic ride on the Chester-Hadlyme Ferry to visit the castle.
Delaware: Watch horseshoe crabs mate.
Delaware Bay is the hot spot for this, um, sordid affair, wherein horseshoe crabs wash ashore and perform their annual mating ritual. And, as reported by the Washington Post, this is a thing people flock to.
Florida: Attend underwater concerts.
In Florida, every July, folks flock to the Loee Key Reef Resort to partake in the Underwater Music Festival. There, they dress in mermaid attire, throw on scuba gear, grab their snazziest aquatic “instruments,” dive into the sea, and “jam out” (they’re not actually playing anything) to songs played over loud speakers.
Georgia: Add to a trail of discarded dolls.
Summer is the ideal time for Georgians to traipse through Doll’s Head Trail (just outside of Constitution Lakes Park, in Atlanta) and add their own “found art” to a meandering collection of randomness—including abandoned doll heads. When you arrive, a severed doll’s arm will point you in the right direction.
Hawaii: Attend ukulele festivals.
Since 1971, Hawaiians have attended the Ukulele Festival Hawaii in the Waikiki neighborhood of Honolulu, Oahu. There are jams, concerts, and, as a highlight, an orchestral performance featuring more than 800 students. For those who prefer to get away from the high rises of Waikiki, in recent years, offshoot festivals have popped up in Waikoloa and Maui.
Idaho: Watch the best fiddlers in the world face off.
An event for fiddling fanatics and newbies alike, the “National Finals” of Fiddling have been held in Weiser, Idaho, every summer since 1953. The week-long National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest and Festival in June features swing dancing, pie-making classes, and some fine-tuned fiddling from more than 200 competitors—all sure to have you tapping your toes in no time.
Illinois: Compete to see who who can sweep the fastest.
The objective of the Arcola Broomcorn Festival in Illinois is simple: Sweep the most broom corn seeds through the maze to the hole at the end. The sweeper with the most grains in the hole within the one-minute time limit wins the coveted broom corn broom.
The festival, which has been an annual summer event for the past five decades, also features 5K and 10K races (sweeping not required).
Indiana: Watch people pour milk on themselves…
…at the Indy 500, no less! True Hoosiers wait with bated breath to witness this tradition, where the winner of the epic race dumps a bottle of milk on their head after crossing the finish line in first place. As reported by USA Today, Indiana dairy farmers, known on race day as the “milk people,” proudly handle the responsibility of delivering the milk to the winning driver and his team.
Iowa: Gaze upon a butter bovine.
For more than a century, thousands of visitors have flocked to Des Moines to view a massive, 600-pound masterpiece, made entirely of pure Iowan butter. Serving as the sculptor for the piece is a privilege that has only been delegated to five people since the concept of the butter cow sculpture began in 1911; in fact, the cow’s current sculptor, Sarah Pratt, spent an astonishing 15 years as an apprentice before being entrusted with crafting the sculpture herself.
Kansas: Up your jousting game.
One of the nation’s largest, most expansive, fantastical Renaissance fairs takes place in Bonner Springs, Kansas. At the twilight of of every summer, from the end of August through the middle of October, the 16th century is colorfully revived at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival. There, you’ll find all the entertainment of 16 century Europe: minstrels, mead, and, of course, lots and lots of jousting.
Kentucky: Venerate “The Dude.”
Diehard fans of the Coen brothers’ 1998 cult classic The Big Lebowski eagerly look forward to convening in Louisville with their fellow “achievers.” Think that sounds silly? Yeah, well, y’know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.
Louisiana: Run from a roller girl stampede.
In a unique take on Spain’s famous Encierro, or “Running of the Bulls,” New Orleans traditionally holds an entirely bull-less version of the European event. Rather than being chased by steers, though, these runners enter the race at their own risk of being pursued by “roller girls,” participants from roller derby leagues across the country.
Maine: Sprint across floating lobster crates.
Every August, Rockland, Maine is home to the Maine Lobster Festival. There, attendees can catch concerts from local bands, witness the coronation of the “Maine Sea Goddess,” and, of course, eat tons and tons of lobster. But the main attraction (yes, pun entirely intended) is the Great International Lobster Crate Race, where people see how many lobster traps they can make it across before falling into the frigid Atlantic. The current record of a phenomenal 4,501 crates was set by a 12-year-old in 2008.
Maryland: Compete in a “waterman’s rodeo.”
Boaters from all across Maryland motor down to St. Michaels, on the Chesapeake Bay, for Waterman’s Appreciation Day every August. Festivities include concerts, beer-drinking, and a whole lot of Old Bay-dusted crab. But attendees really flock to witness the annual “waterman’s rodeo,” a fiercely competitive boat-docking contest. The whole shebang is for a charitable cause: to raise money for the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.
Massachusetts: Anxiously await the Horribles Parade.
Come Independence Day, in lieu of touting the red, white, and blue, Massachusetts is home to a parade that takes aim at all sorts of turmoil—both locally and nationally.
The Beverly Farms’ Horribles Parade is known for its propensity to up the ante just a little too far: The floats regularly take jabs at national controversies like Tiger Woods’ affair and the opioid crisis, as reported by Boston Magazine. (Once, the parade even featured a float poking fun at a “pregnancy pact” in a nearby town that resulted in 17 high school girls getting pregnant.)
Michigan: Freak out over fungus.
Crystal Falls, Michigan, is home to the world’s largest contiguous organism—a massive subterranean mushroom network spanning more than 37 acres. This bizarre claim to fame is celebrated each year with the Humongous Fungus Fest, which features a parade, a strongman competition, three competitive eating contests (pie, bacon, and pasty), a mushroom cook-off, and a “Men’s Beardy Pageant” (which is exactly what it sounds like).
Minnesota: Kiss pigs.
You mean your state doesn’t have annual summer fundraisers revolving around puckering up for farm animals?
Mississippi: Whip up infinite batches of “comeback sauce.”
Southern Living might offer its version of a recipe for this savory condiment, but every self-respecting Mississippian is sure to know the secret ingredients to their family’s special twist on “comeback sauce.” The sauce, which usually consists of a base of mayonnaise and chili sauce, is ideal for dunking French fries or fried chicken at a summertime cookout. Or, for the healthier eaters, you can drizzle a dollop over your salad to serve as a delectable dressing.
Missouri: Memorialize Mark Twain.
Summer is the ideal season to reflect on all the shenanigans of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, characters created by Missouri’s very own Samuel Clemens (better known by his pen name, Mark Twain). In Hannibal, Missouri, Twain’s charming hometown, residents continue to mark his literary contributions with visits to the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum, Mark Twain Cave & Campground, Mark Twain Riverboat, and the newly-completed Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse. Better yet, Hannibal hosts an annual Twain on Main Festival in late May, where you can even pose for a picture with Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher.
Montana: Brush up on the quadrille.
Every summer, the Virginia City Preservation Alliance hosts a Grand Victorian Ball, where attendees dress in their finest period attire and prepare to waltz the evening away.
Nebraska: Participate in the world’s zaniest chicken dance.
If you want to see some serious chicken dancing, head to Wayne, Nebraska. There, every summer, you’ll find the the aptly named Chicken Show, where attendees partake in a bunch of chicken-themed events. On the menu: an egg toss, an egg drop, a hard-boiled egg-eating contest, a wing-housing contest (sponsored by Pizza Hut, no less), and a petting zoo. Oh, and be prepared to see a whole lot of people dressed up as chickens and engaging in chicken dance-offs.
Nevada: Set fire to Burning Man.
This week-long event in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert is governed by 10 main principles: radical inclusion, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, gifting, decommodification, participation, immediacy and leave no trace. Still confused? All you have to know is that it involves a ritual of burning of a large wooden effigy (“The Man”) and a lot of illegal substances.
New Hampshire: Coast down cement alpine slides.
In the winter, Attitash Mountain Resort is a world-class ski facility. In the summer, it’s a bona fide adrenaline heaven. The mountain in Bartlett, New Hampshire, is home to a series of alpine slides—waterslide-like structures made of smooth cement instead of streams of H20. And instead of the meager hundred feet or so a traditional waterpark slide will send you, these twist and turn all the way from the mountain’s peak (1,750 feet) down to the base. The ride runs from mid-June to mid-October.
New Jersey: Beach and booze at the Jersey Shore.
No doubt about it, the Jersey Shore is the place to party during the summer months. Some reports suggest that Monmouth County, the northernmost part of the shore, sees about 6 million visitors per season. After relaxing at the beach, you’ll see people who don’t want the party to ever end meander over to the boardwalk clubs. Enter if you dare!
New Mexico: Dress up as aliens.
In early July, New Mexico pokes lighthearted fun at the famous 1947 event where a flying object (later identified by the U.S. Army as a high-altitude balloon) crashed into the town of Roswell with the UFO Festival. There’s even an alien car decorating contest! And for some ridiculous rumors that haven’t yet been disproven, see these 20 Famous Rumors We All Wish Were True.
New York: Flip fins.
New Yorkers sport their finest seashells and scales every June for Coney Island’s Mermaid Parade, a tradition promoting self-expression, artistry, and a deep and abiding love of mythology.
North Carolina: Celebrate Christmas in July.
Because 12 whole months is way too long to wait for Christmas to come back around, North Carolina’s Ashe County holds a jolly celebration of their booming Christmas tree industry (one of the top producers in the country, according to the Washington Post). There’s mountain music, a “Best of the Best” Christmas tree competition, and a shorts-and-sunglasses-wearing Santa.
North Dakota: Road trip on the Enchanted Highway.
Go for a drive on the Enchanted Highway, a 32-mile stretch that leads to the North Dakotan town of Regent, to gaze at seven series of scrap metal sculptures that range from 40-feet to 110-feet and feature fish, birds, bugs, and more. Since 1989, sculptor Gary Greff has steadily added to the highway, according to the Bismarck Tribune, and in 2019, North Dakota lawmakers allotted $75,000 toward maintaining the scenic sculptures.
Ohio: Craft duct tape masterpieces.
You probably don’t love duct tape as much as Ohioans do. And by love, we mean they come together every summer, at the Avon Heritage Duck Tape Festival, to celebrate this commodity by building duct tape parade floats, holding a duct tape fashion show, and showcasing master displays of duct tape artisanship.
Fishing is already a sport that requires skill, but Oklahoma notches up the intensity with their summer noodling tournaments—the biggest one being the decades-running Okie Noodling Festival—where competitors are required to use nothing more than their hands to catch the largest catfish.
Oregon: Parade pooches…and other pets.
Officially recognized by the state’s Parks & Recreation Department as an Oregon Heritage Tradition, the Fourth of July Pet Parade in Bend, Oregon, has been a treat-filled tradition since 1932. According to local news channel KTVZ, the one-and-a-half-mile march parades a variety of pets that include lizards, goats, snakes, and (of course) dogs.
Pennsylvania: Relive a classic ’50s sci-fi film.
Remember The Blob? Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, certainly does. The town’s Colonial Theatre was in the background for several shots of the iconic Steve McQueen film. And every July, in an event called Blobfest, they strive to keep the spirit of 20 century science-fiction alive with film screenings, costume contests, and live reenactments.
Rhode Island: Set the river on fire.
Starting in late May, the Providence River is periodically set ablaze. Every few weeks, the folks at WaterFire Providence send more than 80 bonfires—in the form of torchlit vessels—down the river and even better, every event is entirely free!
South Carolina: Watch people weave hammocks.
In Pawleys Island in South Carolina, you’ll find the eponymously named Pawleys Island Hammocks, a 125-year-old company best known for popularizing the rope hammock. During the summer months, South Carolinians—and tourists—will flock to town to watch Pawleys Island Hammock’s master artisans go through the painstakingly slow process of crafting hammocks from scratch.
South Dakota: Compete in a mashed potato wrestling contest.
Every August, South Dakotans sign up to wrestle in a pit of mashed potatoes. We’re guessing they don’t want any gravy with that.
Tennessee: Watch folks compete in “The Race that Eats Its Young.”
Few trail races on the planet are more arduous than the Barkley Marathons in Tennessee. It’s a 20-mile geared-up race through the woods—but the trail isn’t marked, so it’s easy to go of course. As such, racers have 60 hours to complete the thing.
What’s more, according to Runner’s World, the entry process is a secret; there’s no race website, you have to snail-mail in your application, and just a few dozen slots are awarded. Spectators and media are only permitted to view from two select spots. In both 2018 and 2019, no one finished.
Texas: Admiring the bats.
Every June, the enormous colony of Mexican freetail bats (purportedly the largest bat colony in the world) roosting under Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge gives birth to new bat pups. By mid-August, the pups are finally ready to venture out on their first flight. Onlookers gather at dusk to watch in awe as approximately 1.5 million bats swoop out from under the bridge to begin their evening hunt.
Utah: Commute via ski lift.
As ski resorts—like Park City and The Canyons—try to up their appeal even in the snow-less summer months, several run their ski lifts in order to cut down on car traffic congestion and still transport guests (and workers!) to their resorts.
Vermont: Go for a bike ride—naked.
Virginia: Watch the wild ponies swim.
In an event made famous by Marguerite Henry’s children’s book, Misty of Chincoteague, volunteer firemen annually round up about 200 wild ponies on Assateague Island in Virginia and coax them into swimming across the channel to Chincoteague Island. The ponies are shepherded to an auction, where attendees from across the United States bid on and purchase that season’s foals.
Washington: Pretend to be a pirate.
No land-lubbers allowed, mateys! Washington takes pirate cosplay pretty seriously, with a slew of pirate-oriented summertime events—including “sword” fights, “cannon” displays, and shanty shows—ostensibly about recognizing the state’s success in the fishing industry.
West Virginia: Feast on roadkill.
To be completely fair, West Virginians don’t indulge in literal roadkill. But area chefs do show their chops by annually competing in the West Virginia Roadkill Cook-off, to see who can cook up the most delectable dishes containing animals killed on the highway. (Possum, squirrel, deer, bear, and snapping turtle are just a few of the delicacies included on the menu.)
Wisconsin: Chunk cow chips.
For those not in the know, there’s nothing edible about a “cow chip”—it’s actually dried cow dung. And since 1975, Wisconsinites have been competing to see who can hurl their cow chip the furthest. The record to beat was set in 1991 by Greg Neumaier, who chunked his chip a phenomenal 248 feet.
Wyoming: Wear kilts while throwing cabers.
During the summer, Wyoming natives will occasionally exchange their favored jeans and boots for kilts and bagpipes to honor their Scottish ancestry at the Cheyenne Celtic Festival. There’s authentic Celtic music and art, as well as a sporting round of Highland Games including the caber throw, sheaf toss, and heavy hammer throw. And for more sea-to-shining-sea tours, don’t miss Best Life‘s roundup of The Best City in Every State for Empty Nesters.
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