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The Hunt Is On for Easter Egg Record

April 16, 2006|Dahleen Glanton | Chicago Tribune

HOMER, Ga. — Distinguishing this small town of sprawling green pastures and white picket fences from any other rural community in America is the sign posted at the Homer city limits proclaiming it the "Home of the World's Largest Easter Egg Hunt."

Never mind that the city of 950 people set the Guinness World Record in 1985 or that it has been broken many times since by other cities. When it comes to Easter egg hunts, no place -- or few, at least -- does it quite like Homer.

For 47 years, the 10-acre horse pasture on Mack Garrison's farm has been the site of the most popular Easter egg hunt in the South. About 5,000 children, with their parents in tow, come from Atlanta, about 70 miles south, and from as far as North Carolina and Alabama to trample through the grass in their Easter Sunday best in search of 100,000 candy eggs. Buried among them are 125 prize eggs that can be claimed for a live rabbit, a stuffed rabbit or an Easter basket filled with goodies.

"This is a family tradition that began when I was a kid," said Garrison, 51, whose grandfather started the hunt for the children of people who worked in his sawmill. "We are going to keep doing it for as long as I am around."

The event is as much a part of the Easter tradition in the South as sunrise service at the Baptist church. But in the competitive world of Easter egg hunting, Homer has fallen behind the times. Twenty-one years ago, it won the title by hiding 80,000 eggs, brought in fresh from a farm on Easter morning and boiled in cast-iron pots over an open flame.

These days it takes a lot more eggs than that.

On April 9, Georgia's Stone Mountain Park set the Guinness World Record with 301,000 plastic eggs, stealing the title from the park district of Rockford, Ill., which hid 292,686 eggs last year.

The modern Easter egg hunt, which is more likely to involve candy eggs or plastic ones stuffed with candy than hard-boiled eggs, has grown into one of the biggest rituals of spring, with cities vying to hide the most eggs and draw the biggest crowd.

Just as Georgia and Illinois have battled over who has the busiest airport and the biggest aquarium, there is probably another fight on the horizon over which state can hide the most Easter eggs. Organizers in Rockford said they were thinking about trying to regain the title next year. If they do, Stone Mountain will be standing by to challenge them the next year.

Acting as hostess of an annual Easter egg hunt has become an unofficial duty of the nation's first lady and just about every governor's wife.

And Easter egg hunts are not just for children anymore. There are Easter egg hunts for dogs, underwater Easter egg hunts for adults, and nighttime Easter egg hunts for teenagers. The stakes are higher too. To attract big crowds, prizes are often awarded -- including CDs, bicycles and season passes to amusement parks.

Though Homer has been out of the race for more than two decades, Garrison said the city should not be written off. It held the record for six years, until a group in Manatee, Fla., took it in 1991 by hiding 120,000 eggs.

"I would like to do something big for the 50th anniversary," said Garrison, who owns an automobile salvage shop in town. "Maybe we will try it again."

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