Banana Festival returns to western Tennessee, Kentucky
Western Kentucky and Tennessee residents went bananas again last week.
The twin cities of Fulton, Kentucky, and South Fulton, Tennessee, recently celebrated their 60th Annual Banana Festival, marking the town’s historic connection to the railroad and banana trade.
Located halfway between Chicago and New Orleans, along the Illinois Central Railroad, Fulton played a crucial role in the transportation of the berry, which is often mistaken for a fruit.
Before the days of refrigeration, the community was home to the only ice house on the northern route. The United Fruit Company, now Chiquita, used to ship their bananas to Fulton on top of massive blocks of ice, where they would be placed on new blocks and continue their journey to Chicago. At one point 70% of all bananas sold in the United States passed through Fulton.
The festival draws thousands of visitors to celebrate that rich tradition with a bevy of banana-themed events. This year’s celebrations – which ran from Sept. 9-17 – included a Banana Pageant, a parade, live music, the Banana Cabana, a car show and the making of a one-ton banana pudding. In total, over 7,500 people attended throughout the week.
Rotary Club member Dan Voegeli says the turn out of the festival was the largest he has ever seen.
“People come from all over the country to show their classic cars and enjoy the festival,” Voegeli said. “The greatest part of the festival is getting to meet everyone and see everyone come together.”
Festivalgoer Shirley Lee, a former employee of the Mayfield candle factory that was destroyed in last December’s tornado outbreak. She says the festival is a great way for the Fulton community – which also saw a lot of damage from the storms – to have fun and to have a respite for the struggle it has gone through.
“There are many places that still need help but things are starting to bounce back,” Lee said. “We are here to enjoy ourselves.”
The traditionally gigantic banana pudding required a nearly 30-volunteer team to make it this year, with volunteers peeling and cutting the bananas, unboxing vanilla wafers and opening cans of pudding before putting it all together. All of that happens in just one hour.
Fulton native Melanie Gunn has helped make the banana pudding for four years. She says that’s one of her favorite parts about the festival.
“I enjoy when we serve the pudding,” Gunn said. “At the end of the parade people line up with their bowls to be served. Making the pudding can sometimes be chaotic if there are not enough volunteers but this year went smoothly.”
The volunteers’ hard work is dished out in commemorative bowls every year at the end of the parade, which this year moved the hefty heap of banana pudding on a train float driven by the local Shriners Charity.
Festival volunteer and 911 dispatcher for Fulton County Teresa Decker has gone to the festival all of her life and she says the county’s unique history is one to be treasured.
“The community coming together and showing pride in our town is the best part of the festival,” Decker said. “It seems like the town has come together more in recent years to make the festival bigger.”
Banana pudding supervisor Nathan Lamb knows the pudding is one of the festival’s biggest draws and he hopes the community can keep besting itself and make an even bigger one in years to come.