Hell Hole Swamp Festival turns 40

An old train depot serves as headquarters for the Hell Hole Swamp Festival in Jamestown. File photo

Rob Timmerman // The Post and Courier

Bryce Benjamin Jones, a town worker setting up the festival on Wednesday, demonstrates the old whisky still, a central feature of the Hell Hole Swamp Festival in Jamestown.

JAMESTOWN -- You can still see the holes that revenue agents punched in the copper bottom of the old moonshine still.

Town officials drag out the contraption every year for the annual Hell Hole Swamp Festival, which starts Friday evening and goes all day Saturday.

Agents seized the still a few miles away shortly before the first festival in 1972, according to a newspaper article at the time. The still became the official image of the annual festival. It will be on display Saturday behind the old train depot that serves as festival headquarters.

Why a still for a festival logo?

"Because that's what Hell Hole Swamp was famous for," said festival organizer Chris Pipkin, who has collected a vast trove of old newspaper and magazine articles about moonshining in Berkeley County and festivals from years past.

There will be no moonshine Saturday, but there will be spitting. Both men and women used to spit tobacco up until a few years ago. Now children see who can spit cocoa the farthest.

"It's a chance for them to be rude," Pipkin said.

Why not tobacco (for the adults)?

"It's nasty," Pipkin said. "We couldn't get anybody to do it anymore."

The greased pole climb also is a thing of the past.

"We don't do that anymore because of the liability," Pipkin said. "Everything has become a liability."

But there will be slingshots.

Children can shoot slingshots at targets under the supervision of Michael Lake, who also organizes the annual 10K Gator Run, which features real alligator heads as trophies.

"It's amazing how few people know how to use a slingshot anymore," Lake said.

He puts up boards so nobody gets hit and lets kids fire rocks at Gatorade bottles filled with sand.

There also are the annual legs contests, especially suitable for those whose beauty is from the waist down. Contestants stand behind a tarp that reveals only their legs.

"We've had some homely looking winners," Pipkin said.

If you're not that confident of your legs, you can show off your dog instead. There will be contests for the prettiest and the ugliest dog.

The annual Miss Hell Hole Swamp Festival contest considers the whole package. It was held Sunday, and the winner will wave at the crowd in the festival parade Saturday.

This year's Miss Hell Hole is Maggie Love of Kingstree. She's a senior at Williamsburg Academy and a freshman at Williamsburg Technical College. She won a $200 savings bond, which she will apply to her education at Clemson University, where she will major in agriculture.

"Around our area, the Hell Hole Swamp is a very prestigious title," she said. "It's such a different title. It catches people off guard when you tell them you're Miss Hell Hole."

The parade also used to include snakes, but the family that used to bring them quit coming a few years ago.

Mayor Roy Pipkin, Chris Pipkin's husband, said he was glad to see them go.

"A lot of people, like me, don't want to be around snakes," said Roy Pipkin, who grew up on a farm in town.

The festival will conclude with fireworks, an extra expense this year to mark the 40th anniversary.