Pungo Tales: The Pungo Strawberry Festival, our community celebration

The Rev. Walt Whitehurst, author of the Pungo Tales series of books. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News/File]


PUNGO — The Pungo Strawberry Festival, which will take place this weekend, May 25-27, began in 1983 and has continued to this day. A very important part of the Festival is that more than $1 million of its profits have been given back to the community to help nonprofit organizations and through providing college scholarships. That is a remarkable record.

The idea of starting the Pungo Strawberry Festival was born in the Pungo Beauty Shop in the Pungo Square Shopping Center. Judy White – daughter of Margie Blanton, who with her husband were the original owners of  Margie and Ray’s Restaurant on Sandbridge Road – said one day back in 1983, “What Pungo needs is something to liven things up. Why don’t we have a special event and call it the Pungo Strawberry Festival?”

The first Festival took place that year, on Saturday only. It featured a sidewalk sale, food prepared by Allan Brock Sr. and Frank Craft Sr., a truckload of fresh strawberries donated by Joe Burroughs, T-shirts provided by Barbara Bonds, salon haircuts by Judy White and more.  

“The first parade started at North Muddy Creek Road,” said Jack Burroughs. “What a surprise it was to turn the corner and see at least 10,000 people lining the road.”  

No one had known how many people would come to that first event. They had food and non-alcoholic drinks.

“We gave out of food by 11:00 a.m.,” Jenell Brock said. “Other events closed around 3:00 p.m.”

In one of the early years of the Pungo Strawberry Festival, there were some Strawberry Festival shirts left over. Allan Brock Sr. decided to take them to the Knotts Island Peach Festival in Knotts Island, N.C. He set up a table and began to sell them. 

Finally, a young couple came along and bought two of them. It wasn’t long before they came back to Allan’s table and complained, saying, “These T-shirts don’t say Knotts Island Peach Festival. They say Pungo Strawberry Festival. We want our money back.”  

He gave them their money back, and they returned the T-shirts. With that, he decided to close up and go home. He never again took any Strawberry Festival T-shirts to the Peach Festival.

At the Pungo Strawberry Festival each Memorial Day weekend, a local person is chosen to be the honorary mayor of Pungo, and the mayor’s wife is the honorary first lady.

In addition, a woman is chosen to be the honorary Witch of Pungo. Sometimes the first lady is also the witch, and other times they are two different persons. In 2008, my wife, Betty, was the honorary witch and first lady and I was the honorary mayor. It was a great experience for us.

There is a press conference about two weeks before the festival in which the mayor, first lady and witch are introduced, along with a grand marshal – or sometimes grand marshals – of the festival parade.  The news is kept secret until then.  As the Festival begins, the dignitaries are featured in the Saturday morning parade, riding in a convertible and waving at all the people.  After the parade, the witch passes out a card which tells about Grace Sherwood, the Witch of Pungo. 

Grace Sherwood was accused of witchcraft on July 10, 1706, and then-Gov. Tim Kaine exonerated her on the 300th anniversary of her trial. There is a statue of her on the property next to Sentara Bayside Hospital facing North Witchduck Road, not far from the site where she survived the ducking.

The process for proving a woman to be a witch was to throw her into the river, with her right thumb tied to her left toe and her left thumb tied to her right toe. If she got loose and swam to shore, she was a witch. If not, she was innocent but most likely drowned. 

Each year at the Pungo Strawberry Festival, I set up a stand in our front yard south of the Pungo 7-Eleven, and we sell my five Pungo Tales books. Among the persons who bought all of the books a few years ago, was a university professor in Washington, D.C. He was from a small town in Russia, and he had published books like these about his hometown there.  

As we sell the Pungo Tales books, we frequently sing the “Pungo Song” with my ukulele. Come by to see us. 

We might sing it for you.

The Rev. Walter A. Whitehurst lives in Pungo. Email the author for information about the books via waltpungo@aol.com or call him at (757) 426-0230.

© 2018 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC/Used with permission

The Independent News

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