As the temperature dropped, the crowds grew at Fire & Ice

By on February 17, 2016

As record-breaking cold swept through the Eastern U.S., Lititz was enjoying a record turnout at its Fire & Ice Festival. Thousands filled the park and downtown for opening  night of the three-day event, and the live ice sculpting was one of the big attractions. Joe DiMartino (above) was one of the artist

Temperatures dropped into the teens. A light snow began to fall. Fingers and toes were numb. Eyes peered out of layers of scarves and hats.

On a frigid February evening, it seemed that the order for “ice” for the 11th annual Lititz Fire & Ice Festival might have gone just a bit too far. Surely the crowds would dwindle with the bone-chilling temperatures.

Who would come out on such a frozen night just to see ice sculptures, marvel at the lights, listen to music, have a bite to eat, and sip hot chocolate?

Who indeed?

“This might have been our biggest crowd ever,” organizer Dawn Rissmiller said. “In the four hours in the park, we might have had a bigger crowd than the Fourth of July all day. And that’s in the summer.”

Who could explain that an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 showed up for the three-day winter event?

“I think people just love this event. They love having something fun to do on a cold winter night. They love it, even when it’s freezing cold or snowing or windy. They even love it when it’s warm or rainy,” Rissmiller said. “And we are so grateful for that.”

Fire & Ice draws people from close to home, but many more travel from Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Baltimore. They come from all over Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware. The Lansings came up from Virginia just to check it out.

“We heard about Lititz and this big Fire & Ice Festival, so we had to come. Tonight we’re enjoying the ice sculptures. Tomorrow we want to try some chili,” said Tom Lansing, who lives near Fredericksburg and was joined by his wife, sister and brother-in-law.

Lititz Springs Park was dressed up with about 50 ice sculptures ranging from cars to boats to newsboys to lions. Lights provided by Chris Strayer and his crew from Stray Lighting & Production Services in Lititz made the stream through the park glow in sunset red, royal purple and brilliant gold. Strayer’s lighting magic made royal thrones shine in pink, and sparkling starfish bathe in blue. Elegant crystal chandeliers illuminated the treetops, while moon-like lanterns hung above West Main Street.

Steel Radiance and Tonic For Dogma belted classic rock and blues from the park bandshell throughout the night, and Pulse Dance Studio did a series of dance exhibitions in the Reedy Pavilion.

“This is the warmest place to be tonight,” said Jenny Hershey of Mount Joy, as she helped her son roast marshmallows at an open fire pit near the bandshell, safely keeping him away from the dancing flames and offering pointers on eating the sticky treat.

Hanging out by the food trucks in the park parking lot was another great way to stay warm since two of the attractions included hot barbecue smokers. There was brisket, fried chicken, stuffed pretzels, hand-cut french fries and more offered at the nine mobile kitchens.

“They were so busy, five of them ran out of food,” Rissmiller said. “I think everyone was surprised that so many people came out on such a cold night.”

At the entrance to the park, the young Leos were providing hot dogs and hot chocolate. It was cold, but the teens seemed undeterred by the frosty weather. It was, after all, for a very good cause. Proceeds from Fire & Ice go to various charities in the area.

“It’s cold, but we don’t mind. It’s a lot of fun,” said Leo Isabel Lawson.

Friday night’s fun extended into downtown Lititz, along East and West Main streets, and North and South Broad, with ice sculptures lining the sidewalks, and shops and restaurants offering respite from the cold. Pope Francis even showed up on West Main. His life-sized cardboard cutout was at the St. James Catholic Church stand, smiling broadly and looking almost real at first glance. Visitors were posing with the pontiff as they watched a master ice sculptor carve out an underwater scene with starfish in front of the Lititz Mutual Insurance building.

Outside JoBoy’s Brewpub, barbecued brisket, chicken and pork were available. Inside, the lower level Speakeasy and the second floor dance hall offered a warm place to eat, drink, listen to live music and be merry. Many of the downtown Lititz shops marked Second Friday with snacks and sales, as well as cozy temperatures out of the cold. The newly opened Mexican restaurant Chilango’s offered hot tacos, enchiladas, sopes, huaraches and more. They’re off to a good start since opening about a month ago.

On East Main, Sugar Whipped Bakery was celebrating Fire & Ice, Second Friday, Valentine’s Day, and its grand opening with cupcake specials, whoopie pies and balloon sculptures.

“This is quite a night here in Lititz,” owner Stephanie Samuels said as she rushed batches of raspberry chocolate, salted caramel and pink champagne cupcakes to customers.

As a light snow began to fall and the temperature continued to drop, the crowds seemed to intensify.

“It’s hard to explain it, except to say that Lititz is a great town with great people and great volunteers who make this all happen,” Rissmiller said, adding that some 80 volunteers, including 40 Leos with their families and friends, made it possible. “It’s very cool.”

Very cold, actually.

Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and veteran of the Fire & Ice beat. She can be reached at


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