Festival-goers weather the heat to Celebrate East Lyme

East Lyme — At Hole-in-the-Wall Beach on Saturday morning, Niantic resident Sam Smith and his family put the finishing touches on a giant Jurassic World-themed sandcastle that featured a Velociraptor with seashell teeth. 

As the minutes ticked down before the judging at the sandcastle competition during Celebrate East Lyme, Smith said it's not about winning, but about having fun. 

"Win or lose, we come out here to have a good time," he said.

As temperatures soared on Saturday, festivalgoers built sandcastles, enjoyed the rides and sampled from the vendors lining Main Street at the 19th annual Celebrate East Lyme festival.

Frank Sistare and children Summer, 13, and Syrus, 11, created a dolphin pod coming out of a wave for the sandcastle competition. He said they have been participating for seven years and love the beach.

"We're from town, and it's a good time," he said.

Further down the beach, Mike Fenn, whose family has been participating for more than a decade and worked in teams to create two sandcastles, also said the competition was fun.

"It gives us a reason to hang out with all our siblings," he said.

In the afternoon, people listened to music, strolled along Main Street and bought ice cream, cold drinks and items, from carved wooden signs to stuffed animals, and went on rides at St. John's Carnival. 

As the song "Walking on Sunshine" played, Heiko Leyhausen, manager of Arthur Murray Dance Center in Niantic, used a green water bottle to mist people passing by on the street on the sweltering day. The dance studio also had salsa and dancing in the street.

"We want the community to enjoy this," he said.

Niki FitzGerald was in town from Manchester visiting family with her husband and two kids, Gabriella, 7, and Sebastian, 4. They were enjoying going to the beach and the carnival and wanted to come to Celebrate East Lyme despite the heat.

The kids cooled off by getting soaked under one of the misting tents set up for the hot day.

"There are so many great vendors here," FitzGerald said. "It's really cool. We're going to get some ice cream across the way."

At a booth outside the Main Street Grille, John Ignatiadis said that while a lot of people ordered food during last year's Celebrate East Lyme, which took place on a windy day, today it was all about "Lemonade, lemonade, lemonade and lemonade."

Ignatiadis, whose son Teddy owns the restaurant, said the two machines to make the Del's lemonade couldn't keep up with the demand for the frozen drink on the extremely hot day.

While crowds were lighter than last year and people came later in the day due to the heat, he said it was starting to pick up in the late afternoon and even more people were expected to watch the fireworks in the evening.

The Black Hall Grille in Old Lyme offered cold-style menu choices, including chilled watermelon gazpacho and roasted beet salad, to help beat the heat. "Everyone that has tasted it has responded really well to it," owner Joshua Woods said.

Margie and Tom Cox of Manchester had started the day out in Old Saybrook, went to Celebrate East Lyme in the afternoon, and expected to head to Mystic at night. Margie said she loves the ocean, and they said despite the heat, they prefer to be outdoors than indoors — and will probably be out again Sunday. 

Kent Kleiman, a Connecticut native who grew up going to Niantic in the summertime and now lives in New York City, held his 2-year-old daughter, Beatrice, as they took cover from the sun under a tree. He said he likes the town and enjoys coming back and taking his daughter to the beach here.

"This is a great place for little kids," he said.

k.drelich@theday.com

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