Fire & Ice was a big part of Lititz’s cool weekend Lighting, expansion into park brings bigger crowd to block party

By on February 20, 2013

By: ROCHELLE A. SHENK Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer

An artist with DiMartino Ice works on one of seven large sculptures in downtown Lititz.

What makes Lititz cool? A downtown streetscape featuring 76 ice sculptures is a pretty good example.

Chainsaw-wielding sculptors at seven locations were among the many highlights during the block party kick-off for Lititz’s Fire & Ice Festival. This year’s evening of ice expanded into Lititz Springs Park and includes colorful illuminations.

"Originally, we created the block party to bring people downtown on a Friday Night. We wanted people to see that we really are a cool little town with a variety of businesses, and we wanted to have the community come together as neighbors," said event coordinator Dawn Rissmiller. "We’ve been really successful, and what’s happened over the years is that the party attracts people not only from Lititz and surrounding areas, but also from other towns in our region and neighboring states."

And despite wet weather making its presence felt as the evening unfolded, the streets were packed with people for what has become a premiere attraction here.

"Friday night is always really a cool night; it’s neat to see all the people coming together. The Fire & Ice gods really seem to smile on us," Rissmiller added.

Block party excitement included live entertainment (magicians, music and dance performances), more than 30 product and food vendors, carnival games, inflatables for the kids, a meet-and-greet with members of the Lititz Fire Co., and dozens of ice carvings sponsored by area businesses and organizations.

Lighting on the ice carvings was done by Stray Lights LLC. Chris Strayer, owner of the Lititz business, was putting the finishing touches on a few pieces just before the block party. "I grew up in Lititz, but this it’s the first time I’ve been to the event, even though my wife and children have been to Fire & Ice and the block party a number of times. Last year, I drove through downtown later on Friday night and realized that lighting would enhance the ice sculptures and make them pop," he explained.

The lighting set the mood and all the sculptures crafted by DiMartino Ice Company of Jeannette drew "oohs" and "aahs" from the crowd as they strolled by. The ice throne located near the entrance to the park drew lots of attention as people not only marveled at it, but also tried it out and had friends/relatives take photos of them seated on the throne.

The colorful ice slide located in the large pavilion in the park also received lots of attention (and use) from children. After several rides on the slide, 10-year-old Emily Paynter, Lititz, smiled and laughed as she reported that it was really fun. "You really go fast. It’s also fun to look at," she said.

While the block party has always featured live ice carvings, this year the number was bumped up to seven. Ernie DiMartino, who carved the Heart of Lancaster’s heart-shaped ice sculpture in front of the Lititz Post Office, said that he’s been doing ice sculpture for over 23 years.

DiMartino Ice was founded in 1968 by his father, and both he and his brother worked in the business part-time for a number of years. However, when Ernie’s full-time position at the Volkswagen assembly plant in New Stanton was lost due to its closing in 1988, he realized the time was right for a permanent change. "I had a neighbor who was a chef who did ice carving. He taught me how to carve, and we added ice sculptures to our business. Now we sell ice in the summer, and do ice carvings for ice festivals in the winter," he explained.

As for the steps in creating an ice sculpture, DiMartino said that planning is important. He thinks about the design, creates it on paper, and then transfers that design onto larger paper that’s then placed on the ice blocks. Once he begins carving, he creates the design on the ice block in one dimension, and with the basic shape in place, he begins to create the three-dimensional sculpture.

DiMartino said that a lot of care goes into creating an ice block that’s really clear; and the clear ice is what really makes the carving catch the light. "When it’s a large sculpture that involves more than one block of ice, it’s important to consider where the joints are," he explained. "We do our best to make sure the joints are secure, but even so you need to think about that in the design."

DiMartino was aided by 11-year-old Jacob Rissmiller. "I’m the runner. I’ll make sure that Ernie or the other carvers have what they need, and when the carving is finished, I brush off the ice chips," he said. Since his mom, Dawn, lives and breathes the event for months, he too has been a part of it. "It’s amazing to see how a block of ice is transformed. I’ve been around Ernie and his family for so long that I’m like their little cousin. It’s been amazing being part of this whole event," he proudly stated.

Lititz residents Christy Roberts and her 8-year-old son Brendan watched Joe DiMartino, Ernie’s nephew who’s been carving for four years, work on a giant snowflake. Christy said she loves the small town feel of the block party, and Brendan said that he loves to watch the carvers and take photos. "You see the block of ice at the beginning, and you never know what it’s going to be when it’s finished," he said with a smile.

The block party also had a bit of "fire." Boy Scout Troop 44 hosted an old-fashioned marshmallow roast. Nearby, people marveled at the feats of fire performer Michael Thomas, who learned his craft at Coney Island. He explained that being a fire performer is something you learn from someone else in the business. "It’s not something you teach yourself. I’m also a magician, so I enjoy putting myself out there," he said.

Thomas, who is a speech pathologist for an area school district, says that being a fire performer is his alter ego. "Every now and then, one of the students in my school will see me perform, and they can’t believe it’s me. People are fascinated by what I do," he said.

That includes Sydnie Yost of Lititz. "This was the first time I’ve ever seen a fire performer, and it was amazing," she enthused.

Jessie Esbenshade, president of the Lititz Leos, the youth organization that does a lot of the organizing for this event, was pleased to see everyone enjoying themselves. She said that the club will begin planning next year’s event in the next week or so. "We talk about how it could be better," she said. "For us as Leos, this is an important event and a way to show people not only how great our community is, but also how great teens are and how capable we are." More BLOCK PARTY, page A16

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