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By Alex Bridges - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER - The 84th Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival came and went this weekend with stars on parade and crowds on the Midway downtown.
By Sunday morning, cleaning crews left little sign that thousands of people had amassed in the city.
The Grand Feature Parade on Saturday afternoon drew throngs along blocked off streets, where many spectators recognized the Grand Marshal.
"It's Debbie Reynolds! That's awesome! You go girl!" yelled one woman as the actress rode by in a parade car.
People took pictures of the parade guests and floats with cell-phone cameras.
Meanwhile, other festivalgoers gathered on the Midway, where vendors sought players for their games or promoted their edible creations.
"I think it's one of the biggest attractions that Winchester has," said city resident Dustin Snead. "I think it brings in the most people and it's just really good."
Snead and Ashley Hessom stood with their eight-month-old girl, Hannah, on the Midway between vendors.
"It's her first Apple Blossom," Snead said.
"Nah. She had one last year, but she was in my belly," Hessom said.
The couple already had watched some of the parade and made their way to the Midway where food vendors offered meat on sticks, fried treats and other classic festival fare.
"I try new things," Snead said. "I like some of the exquisite food they have. Something different."
Not all foods pass when fried.
"Sometimes it's good; sometimes it's a bad idea," Snead said.
In the moments before the start of the parade, spectators started to find their seats using tickets bought through the festival which put them closer to the end. Houses along the route had roped off yards for private parties.
Peyton Shurtz screamed at a clown performing tricks long before the parade rode by. At 20 months, Peyton already how she felt about clowns, said her mother, Denise Shurtz, as she tried to turn the girl's head and cover her eyes to calm her down.
Shurtz said she knew all too well that a whole group of clowns would come during the parade later.
She and her mother, Brenda Day, both from Front Royal, grabbed front-row seats for the Grand Feature Parade on Handley Boulevard, across from the grandstand. They tried buying tickets to the grandstand the day the festival store opened, but the seats were sold out. They said they come to the festival every year to see the Grand Feature Parade.
"If we didn't come, we'd feel like we missed out," Shurtz said.
This year's queen, Caitlin Brunell, took her place in the Grand Feature Parade, which rounded out several days of festival events and appearances. Later Saturday night, Brunell spoke by telephone and reflected on her time in Winchester.
"It was really exciting seeing all those people," she said. "I definitely did not expect that."
Brunell rode in the Firefighters' Parade on Friday evening and said it impressed her. She called the Grand Feature Parade "pretty shocking" and said she hadn't experienced any events similar to the Bloom.
"It was all kind of new but very exciting," she said. "I felt very honored and special throughout the entire weekend, so it was great."
Brunell, joined during the parade with her mother, Stacy, and younger brother, Luke, met Reynolds.
"Goodness that was one of my favorite parts of the whole weekend," Brunell said. "I grew up watching 'Singin' in the Rain' and a bunch of those old movies, so to be able to sit next to her with her this morning was really a special moment for me and my mom who came with me."
Brunell said her brother "had the time of his life" during the festival. The court had a police escort Saturday. Brunell said her brother, who wants to be a police officer when he grows up, rode in a cruiser and had the chance to operate the sirens and other equipment.
Brunell plans to send a message to her friends and family: "That everyone needs to come to this festival."
"My mom was joking around with my dad that she would like to move here," she said. "I hope to come back and continue to visit 'cause it's wonderful. It's such a great community that's so close, and it was really special to see how close they are and just how special this weekend [is].
"It's like they wait the whole year for this weekend, so I think anyone would love to be here."