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Offbeat Pa. holiday literally gambles on the rain

Plus, life after the Choco Taco.


July 29, 2022
Inside this edition: Middle ground, Boss costs, taco tribute, antique trail, Pocono crawl, gang story, and they're only happy when it rains.

The geographic center of Pennsylvania can be found in which county? 

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)

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» One thing worth reading: A historian believes he's found the Bucks County hideout of a colonial-era Quaker family-turned-British spies, via WFMZ. Some call it "the greatest American story never told."

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Above: Cloud crowds. Below: Wayne Drop, the mascot. (Via the Rain Day Festival) 

Chances are it will rain in Waynesburg today, and that’s big news, abnormally so.

The borough, seat of Greene County and home to roughly 4,000 people, has a holiday riding on it and a related 150-year-old prophecy to fulfill. 

The holiday is called Rain Day, and it’s a celebration of precipitation that started one-and-a-half centuries ago with a farmer mentioning, in passing, that it always seemed to rain on his birthday (July 29). That observation inspired an annual tradition that has morphed into something big.

There’s a festival with umbrella contests, a mascot named “Wayne Drop,” pageants, races, and an annual rain wager that has drawn bets from some of the most famous people in the world: Muhammad Ali, Will Ferrell, a pre-presidency Donald Trump, Bing Crosby, The Three Stooges, Johnny Carson, and the prince of Pennsylvania holiday quirkdom, Punxsutawney Phil. (Most of them have lost.)

Here’s how the wager or “hat bet” works: Since at least 1939, the borough’s mayor predicts rain on July 29, while celebrities and special guests bet against it. If it rains, the mayor gets a signed cap. If it doesn’t rain, the special guest wins a Rain Day souvenir. 

According to a brief history of the holiday written by Waynesburg’s Special Events Commission chair, John Owen, the hat bet started between the early keepers of the holiday and grew.

Harry Anderson of Night Court fame won his bet in 1988 and displayed the hat he was awarded on the set of the show, Owen wrote. It reportedly appeared in several episodes on a bookshelf in Judge Harry T. Stone’s chambers, near the stuffed armadillo.

To attract notable figures, the mayor of Waynesburg has relied on local connections, the Observer-Reporter explained. In 2014, then-Mayor ​​Duncan Berryman reached actress Patricia Heaton through a friend of a friend, Waynesburg native and Battlestar Galactica alum Sarah Rush.

In 1983, Today Show weatherman Willard Scott gave Rain Day a shoutout on the national stage. In 1985, he served as hat bettor and won. 

This year’s bettor is Pittsburgh gadabout Rick Sebak, and chances are he’s going to lose: Myranda Fullerton, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh, said there was a roughly 70% chance of rain in Waynesburg this Rain Day.

A confident Sebak told the Observer-Reporter last week that he has every intention of driving to Waynesburg on Rain Day with the top down.

But the historical odds aren’t in his favor either.

It has rained on 116 out of the past 148 Rain Days (or roughly 78% of the time) going all the way back to 1874, proving that the farmer who started it all, Caleb Ely, may have been onto something when he walked into William Allison’s drug store and noted his soggy birthday streak.

Allison started the annual record of July 29 weather, and his project has continued ever since, spanning generations and the occasional drought.

The first dry Rain Day occurred in 1921 after 47 straight years of rain. 

There have been dry spells, too, the longest lasting four years, a low-water mark that would have been matched last year had the skies not opened up.

Some years see no rain. Not a shower. Not a sprinkle. Not a drop. A barely perceptible trace in the middle of the night is all it takes.

Needless to say, the festival is a go, rain or shine.

Colin Deppen, PA Local editor

"Pennsylvania Colony founder Crooked William repulses the first shipment of birthday party shovels. He is alleged to have been cursed by the commodore for his actions and was frustrated. March 2, 1772."

An excerpt from 'Pennsylvania History, Written by a Bot,' via archivist Ty Stump in the Another Century blog

A purple patch from @samanthasearsmusic. Send us your pics by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania

The geographic center of Pennsylvania can be found in the aptly named Centre County, roughly halfway between State College and Bellefonte.

In 2016, PennLive wrote about the search for Pennsylvania's middle and mentioned the competing claims to it seen throughout the years.

The outlet found the actual spot — N40 52.500, W77 48.167 — but no markers or "clearly defined paths that lead to the hillside."

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