Not only can you take a bite out the world’s largest MoonPie at the 26th annual RC Cola-MoonPie Festival on Saturday, June 19, but also anyone with a robust throwing arm could give a mighty heave and become the next world champion MoonPie tosser.
The whopper MoonPie will be whipped up by the Chattanooga Bakery, which began making MoonPies in 1919. The gigantic pie, 38 inches in diameter and about four-inches high, serves 300-400 people.
Jenny Hunt, public relations director for the Bell Buckle Chamber of Commerce, estimates that half a million MoonPies have been devoured here over the course of 25 previous festivals, which have been held every third Saturday of June (except last year) since 1994. The day-long event attracts 30,000 visitors who consume 8,000 RC Colas and 12,000 MoonPies, give or take a few.
Thus, the Bedford County community of 405 residents, not counting 300 Webb School students, lays claim to being “the MoonPie Capital of the World.” Not only that but earlier this year Southern Living magazine named Bell Buckle as the top small town in the South
Describing the day that MoonPie mania rules, Hunt said, “The atmosphere of this town takes over the crowd and with the old-timey tie-in to an old Southern snack, it’s a feel-good all day.
“We have race people (for the 10-mile and 5k foot races), and families and then those who come hell or high water for the giant MoonPie. When we start cutting, it gets crazy. Everybody has their hands out, and I want them to just be careful and not crush anybody. We have to have security now to protect the pie.”
Heather Williams, who has lived here for seven years and is in her fifth year as president of the Chamber of Commerce, described the town as “the quirkiest little village … Bell Buckle oozes charm. It’s a little like ‘Cheers.’ Here you can’t go far without somebody hollering your name. I went to my first potluck ever here and it was the best.
“The festival brings people from all over the U.S. Some plan vacations around it. We have a contest for whoever travels the farthest. One year it was a couple from Australia who just happened to be here, and so they scheduled their vacation the next year to come back.
“It’s a typical small-town festival with a parade and super energetic. The crowning of the MoonPie king and queen is a blast.”
The idea for the festival was spawned by a group led by Capt. Rodney Simmons, Hunt explained. One of the town’s early press releases about the event noted, “Known as the first ‘fast-food’ meal, these two Southern traditions, RC and a MoonPie, are brought together for a grand celebration Bell Buckle-style. The idea for the festival first began in 1994 as a way to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the MoonPie and to bring tourists to Bell Buckle. Bell Buckle called the Chattanooga Bakery to see about throwing a birthday party for MoonPie. Little could anyone have expected what a huge event this would become.”
Warm it up for distance
Getting to the details on how to win a MoonPie toss contest, this writer, who won the 1998 event and has the ribbon to prove it, chatted with two-time world champion MoonPie tosser Joe Hunt, who won around 2003 and 2004 and just so happens to be married to Jenny.
Asked point blank what it takes to win, Joe joked, “I can tell you that you have to throw it further than anybody else.”
Funning aside, Joe shared, “I’ve got an advantage. I played baseball all the way through college. I watched some of the others throw the MoonPie like Frisbees. That won’t win.
“A little heat is your friend,” he said, spilling the beans. “You need to get it warm. So put it under your armpit where it will melt. Then smother it like a ball and make a baseball out of it. And you need to get the air out of it (rules state that the single decker MoonPie must be thrown in its cellophane wrapper]. You can punch a tiny hole in it with your teeth and get the air out of it.”
Joe estimated that his best toss went approximately 200 feet.
This writer, who competed in the primitive era of the sport, waited to go last in the contest, trying to see what worked best for the other hurlers as they flung their pies from behind a line on the asphalt.
My method was to get a 40-foot running start and spin the chocolatey snack in the style of skipping a rock across water and hoisting it at a 45-degree angle. That did the trick and for one year I ruled as champion MoonPie thrower of the world.
Hey, it can only happen in Bell Buckle. I must confess I returned the following year to defend my crown and was soundly walloped, not even finishing in the top five. (I wonder if it was those five MoonPies I ate a few minutes earlier?)
Asking Joe if he would be coming out of retirement and entering the contest this year, he retorted, “Because you’re here, probably yes.”
Jenny added that MoonPie toss has become so popular that they have had to put spotters on the site. For those who have never attended the festival and witnessed this sport, please note that many lackadaisical bystanders have been known to get smacked in the head or on the body by off-course, wobbling MoonPie missiles, but, other than embarrassment, no injuries have been reported.
Other Bell Buckle attractions
While the MoonPie Toss remains the sport of chocolate-snack kings, Jenny, sadly reported the festival had to drop the watermelon seed-spitting contest because “we couldn’t find watermelon seeds. It seems everybody’s growing seedless melons.”
She and Williams also put in a plug for the village’s major event, the Webb School Arts and Craft Festival, held each October and which draws 125,000 guests over two days.
The duo noted there are seven must-see places or persons to meet should you brighten their fair city. These include the Bell Buckle Café, the Bluebird Ice Cream Parlor, the gorgeous mural in alley (the hot spot to take your picture), Bell Buckle Park, Tennessee poet laureate Maggi Vaughn, sculptor Russ Faxon and Phillips’ General Store.
If you need directions, just ask when you get there as these highlights are all within walking distance.
This writer suggests tourists make their first stop at the Bluebird Ice Cream Parlor (hey, life is short, eat dessert first, I say) and say howdy to the hamlet’s true superstar, Nancy Phillips, 85, who makes 125 fried pies in a cast-iron skillet seven days a week. Note that she gets off around 2 p.m.
Phillips has been making fried pies since she was 7 years old and whips up a variety of flavors but creates her banana pudding fried pies and lemon fried pies only on Saturdays.
Said Phillips, “When I have time, I like to talk to people about Bell Buckle and what Bell Buckle’s meant to me. It’s where I was born and grew up and where I’m still making fried pies. I’ve been in business in this town for 50 years, since my husband and I started Phillips’ General Store.
“I’m glad to have a place to be and have something to do. The students from Webb School call me Mama and Mama Phillips in several different languages,” said the woman who is a mother figure to everybody in town.
The thriving half block that makes up Bell Buckle today is pretty much nearly the spitting image of what it was a century ago but almost went before the wrecking ball 45 years ago. The block has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975.
As for whom Bell Buckle tolls, it tolls for thee.