All along Main Street the bustling sounds of Cranbury Day 2021 could be heard as community residents viewed crafted items, classic cars, games and musical performances.
The annual Cranbury tradition returned after being canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing requirements.
Cranbury Day fell this year on Sept. 11, and to honor the lives lost and survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks a remembrance service took place in the middle of Main Street.
A moment of silence was held for the people killed, the survivors and first responders still experiencing the health effects from the toxic dust during the recovery effort at Ground Zero. Veterans from the American Legion held up the colors as Danielle Illario performed the national anthem.
“Singing the national anthem was incredibly emotional on Sept. 11. I was honored I could do it,” Illario said. “I sing the national anthem all the time for baseball games or Fourth of July celebrations – it is usually a happy occasion – and this day I was overcome with emotion and I barely made it through the song.”
Following “The Star Spangled Banner” was a bugle call, “Taps,” which concluded the remembrance service in Cranbury.
“I think it was super important to set the right tone. Cranbury Day is always the second Saturday of September and nothing is more American than a community getting together and celebrating our shared values,” Mayor Mike Ferrante said. “I think it is a very fitting and nice way to put those two things together today.”
Cranbury Day has taken place in Cranbury Township for more than 40 years, and in 2021 would once again have the Mummers Parade march through North Main Street. The Mummers were dressed in elaborate attire, and would stop periodically on the street playing music as residents and families waved and watched the procession.
“What I think is important about Cranbury Day is that we’ve spent a lot more time online over the last year-and-a-half than we have in person. To see neighbors out meeting and talking with one another is great,” Ferrante said. “I think the theme of resilience is super important. Our businesses have been resilient and our neighbors have been resilient.”
Throughout the day, as Cranbury and surrounding area residents and families walked down a section of North Main Street from Scott Avenue to the intersection of Park Place West and East, helicopter blades could be heard above. The sound of the blades came from helicopter rides above the downtown, which took off and landed from the Cranbury School’s baseball and softball field area.
“It is good to have the day celebrated once again. Cranbury Day is a community event and always has been and it was unfortunate that due to the pandemic last year we could not have it, but it came back for 2021,” said Bob Dreyling, a Cranbury resident. “This day is a sign of community spirit.”
In 2021, Cranbury Day featured 65 vendors. The vendors included a Mister Softee ice cream truck and a truck that served snow cones, dog treats from business Doggie Sweets, paintings from the Trenton Community A-Team, a table for face painting, civic organizations and nonprofits.
Thirteen-year-old Cranbury resident Sam Vachras was participating in the day for the nonprofit organization Army Ranger Lead the Way, which was started in honor of Sgt. James Regan, who was killed in action in Iraq during 2007. The Army Ranger Lead the Way Fund is a national veterans organization that provides casualty assistance, financial assistance and services to disabled Rangers and to the families of Rangers who have died.
The table for the organization was raising funds through two activity options.
“You could either play golf and if you make three shots in a row you can win a T-shirt and for basketball you have three shots to win a T-shirt,” Vachras said. “This my first year doing it. We were trying to think of an organization to do. This organization is perfect because we know the person who passed away. He played lacrosse and grew up in the same town my parents did.”
He added that there was not a set goal amount for the funds being raised.
“We are just hoping to raise enough so we can help the families and the soldiers,” Vachras said.
In the afternoon of Sept. 11, the Cranbury Lions Club Annual Duck Race commenced as floating rubber ducks were dropped into the Cranbury Brook.
The race, one of the popular attractions of the day, serves as a fundraiser for the Cranbury Lions Club.
“Cranbury Day is always a nice day. The proceeds from our tickets, 70% or more, goes back to Cranbury,” said Pat Meehan, a member of the Cranbury Lions. “Cranbury Day grew out of a sidewalk sale many, many years ago and evolved after that and is a great event. It is a really family-oriented town and local event.”
The Cranbury Business Association (CBA) planned Cranbury Day 2021 and created the theme for this year. “It’s a small town thing.” Julianna Lako helped lead the CBA’s planning of Cranbury Day with Christine Thompson.
“It is unbelievable to see the final product of all the planning. The turnout was great,” Lako said. “Cranbury Day is a sense of community. It is so nice to have everybody come out and support each other and walk around and talk. People are showing things they are proud of.”
She added that the 2020 cancelation was heartbreaking.
“It was absolutely devastating to me. This is something I look forward to every year,” Lako said. “Being able to see my friends and family, it is just a great day. With the return of the event I can’t believe so many people came out to this with these unprecedented times. It is just nice.”
The day also included a chalk drawing contest hosted by the Cranbury Station Gallery, pony rides, a Jazzercise demo, and a performance by Magician Steve Vogel.
The Helene Cody Cranbury 5k & One Mile Fun Run also took place again in Heritage Park. The event, which occurs on the same day as Cranbury Day, is a major fundraiser to fund youth service projects and scholarships for the Helene Cody Foundation.
The races honors Helene Cody, who passed away from a brain aneurysm on her 16th birthday in 2008, according to the foundation.
For 2021, the top three finishers for the 5K race were Princeton residents Addison Motto (first), Zachary Deng (second), and Kento Nakaya (third).