The smells of funnel cakes and other festival foods join with the sound of music drifting across the air while hundreds of people gather to shop, enjoy live entertainment, and cheer on their favorite contestants – all while holding their umbrellas in the hope of rain. It’s Rain Day!
Greene County is the home to a one-of-a-kind celebration that’s the perfect day – if it rains. The annual Rain Day Festival celebration in Waynesburg is the only outdoor festival where rain is a welcome guest at the festivities. This year, Waynesburg celebrates its 150th Rain Day on July 29, 2023. Since its first recorded rainfall in 1874, it’s rained 117 out of 149 years – more than 78% of the time.
Rain Day got its humble start in the late 1800s when local farmer Caleb Ely observed to the pharmacist, William Allison, at JT Rogers & Co Drug Store that it always rained on his birthday. Curious about the remark, Allison began a record of rainfall on Caleb’s birthday, July 29. Allison’s brother Albert later handled the recordkeeping, and in the 1920s Byron Daily took over the record.
During the 1930s, newspaperman John O’Hara recognized the uniqueness of a town celebrating an annual day of rain and spread the word with stories shared to other newspapers. NBC’s Today Show weatherman Willard Scott brought national attention to Rain Day in 1985 when he made the annual hat bet and talked about the event on air.
The annual observance grew from simple recordkeeping to a small ceremony at the courthouse and an annual hat bet, and later to a much larger celebration with the festive atmosphere of a street fair. Now Rain Day is celebrated with a Miss Rain Day pageant, contests, carnival and fair foods, arts and crafts booths, live entertainment, games, fireworks, the annual celebrity hat bet, and other amusements. Wayne Drop, the Rain Day mascot, spends the day bringing joy to attendees with high fives, hugs, and the occasional picture.
The annual Hat Bet invites celebrities to bet their hat against the festival on whether it will rain. Since 1939, notable celebrities such as Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, the Three Stooges, Jay Leno, Mr. Rogers, and Will Ferrell have bet their hat (and usually lost it). Twice, whole towns have thrown their hat in a bet.
Each year, a new Miss Rain Day is crowned the Sunday before Rain Day. Local girls from the area compete in the scholarship pageant to earn the honor of reigning over the festivities. The pageant started as a bathing beauty contest in the early 1950s and was held sporadically until 1979. That year, it became an annual scholarship pageant judging contestants in multiple categories.
In 2021, the event moved from downtown Waynesburg’s High Street to the scenic and beautiful Fountain (College) and Monument parks near Waynesburg University. The day-long festival spreads out over four acres, with room to enjoy live entertainment, shop the vendors and artisans, or relax in the shade. Local businesses downtown open their doors for the celebration, often running Rain Day sales and specials.
To be a part of this historic tradition and celebrate Rain Day, make a trip to Waynesburg on July 29 to enjoy a fun time downtown with good food, great entertainment and a welcome chance of rain. Don’t forget your umbrella!