For over two decades, folks from far and wide have traveled to the city of Whiting, Indiana on the last weekend of July. The weekend is designated to celebrate Eastern European culture, community, and, most importantly, food! Over 300,000 people from all around the United States visit with a common taste for something delectable and specific—PIEROGI.
Upon entering, the smell of homemade pierogi and paczki hangs in the air. One is greeted by the Pierogettes, and the Pierogi Princess, and hundreds of people eating pierogi while wearing pierogi hats. A bonus: the iconic Mr. Pierogi turned 21 this year!
Walking through the gate is like taking a step back in time, as Buscias, otherwise known as the grandmothers, stroll around leaving their lip prints on any lucky visitor’s forehead. The atmosphere screams of happiness and cheer, and everyone is willing to share a pierogi or two.
Chris Perry came from Chicago for his fifth Pierogi Fest.
"I'm Polish, so it's a chance to eat all the food I ate growing up,” Perry said. “It's authentic and homemade, not from a box."
Dolores Smolen was celebrating with her family outside the bank they owned years before.
“I grew up here!” Smolen said. “I was at the first Pierogi fest when it was only two blocks long!”
Now, the festival stretches through almost the entirety of 119th street, which lays in the heart of Whiting.
“The Pierogi Fest has benefited this town economically and socially,” Smolen said. “We put it on the map—everybody knows where Whiting is now.”
As visitors mingled and munched, chairs were set up on both sides of the street, and at 7 o'clock, the parade commenced. The crowd cheered and danced with the Buscias holding toilet plungers in the air, and watched motorcyclists pass by while riding on one leg. Parents handed their children bags to store all their candy. Mayor Joe Stahura celebrated in the parade, as well.
The excitement for the European dumpling was validated by Madyson Moyer from Munster, who has been coming to the festival since she was a little girl.
“I love pierogis; I could eat them non-stop if I had the chance," Moyer said. "We even have a pierogi tally tracker.”
She wasn’t kidding! Her friend, Olas Rooker, counted his tallies.
“I’m at 18..but I’m not even the most,” Rooker said. “That guy is at 23. We came last year and lost track and wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again!”
The festival leaves visitors quite literally hungry for the culture and uniqueness of this tradition. A sense of wonderment drifts within the atmosphere that continues to lure more and more visitors each year. If you have a chance, take the time to step out of time and visit the Pierogi Festival 2018 in Whiting, Indiana! The festival runs throughout July 29.