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New Hamburger Charlie ready for 33rd Burger Fest

By Heather Graves

SEYMOUR – Born and raised in Seymour, 32-year-old Ben Braun is well aware of what it means to clip on the red suspenders, tie on the white apron, grab the spatula and take on the role of Hamburger Charlie.

“It will be a great honor to don the red suspenders, being a proud Seymourian myself,” Braun said. “Obviously, you are the face of the festival. You are basically the ambassador of the City of Seymour and Burger Fest. Knowing Hamburger Charlie, knowing the past, it is really exciting.”

The community will celebrate its claim to fame as the Home of the Hamburger with the 33rd Burger Fest, Aug. 13-14, which commemorates Charlie Nagreen’s first smashed meatball sandwich at the Seymour fair in 1885.

Fondly remembered as Hamburger Charlie, Nagreen sold his burgers at the fair for 66 years.

Each year, a member of the community serves as Hamburger Charlie for the festival.

With a slimmed-down festival in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers said Burger Fest is back this year and more “burger-y” than ever.

Home of the Hamburger President Donnie Planert Jr. said summer isn’t complete without a tribute to the greatest food ever invented.

“2020 may have paused Burger Fest, but 2021 is our year,” Planert said. “For 33 years, a team of dedicated volunteers has organized and hosted the Burger Fest celebration, which draws thousands of people who experience our wonderful community and take in the history of our city. As the Home of the Hamburger, Seymour and Burger Fest go hand in hand. It’s a big city event with a hometown feel that keeps people coming back each and every year.”

Braun said Burger Fest is about rallying the community and is beneficial for everyone’s mental well-being.

“It is really exciting for the smaller City of Seymour,” he said. “Something that everyone can relate to. It brings a lot of people together in celebration of a common thing. It is a little humorous that it is a hamburger, but that is what we’re known for and that is what we can relate to.”

Braun said he was hand-selected to play the role of Hamburger Charlie in 2021 by former long-time portrayer John Steltz.

“The prior Hamburger Charlie thought it was time to pass the spatula to a new individual, and he thought of me first,” Braun said. “I certainly have a more outgoing personality, very excited and energetic around Burger Fest overall.”

As a three-time winner of the event’s ketchup slide contest, Braun said he thinks he is a good fit for the role.

Braun said Hamburger Charlie meets and greets visitors, looks and dresses the part and entertains and interacts with the crowd to make sure everyone has a great time at Burger Fest.

“Reading up on the history and understanding the appropriate conversations and information to display,” he said, “you have to make sure you know where a good hamburger is because you are going to get a lot of questions.”

Braun said he is excited to participate in the Burger Fest parade as Hamburger Charlie.

“Generally, the excitement around the parade is always fun,” he said. “A lot of people come out. It is a very good showing of local high school bands and other performances. I think the parade is a great way to kick off Burger Fest. It’s really enjoyable and leads the celebration throughout the day. I think the parade is really something special.”

Burger Fest wouldn’t be complete without the supersized hamburger – this year weighing in at 200 pounds – with cheese, pickles and a bun, which volunteers cut up and share with the crowd for a donation to the local food pantry.

The hot air balloon rally is also back this year, after a 2020 lapse.

“The annual hot air balloon rally is back this year for its 20th-anniversary celebration,” Planert said.

Dozens of hot air balloons will take flight near Rock Ledge Elementary School at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Don’t forget the ketchup slide contest, which awards the contestant who slides the furthest.

Organizers said they go through about 300 gallons of the condiment each year.

The volunteer-run festival raises funds for scholarships and community projects.

“I think it is going to be a great year,” Braun said. “Hoping for record attendance and it will certainly be a cause for celebration this year.”

Organizers said the weekend is filled with family activities including:

Friday, Aug. 13:

• 4-7 p.m. – 50/50 raffle. Drawing at approximately 7:30 p.m.

• 4-8 p.m. – Hot air balloon ride raffe. Drawing at approximately 8:15 p.m.

• 4-9 p.m. – Kid’s events, including face painting.

• 4-9 p.m. – Burgers, French fries, hot dogs, cheese curds, soda and water available for purchase.

• 6 p.m. – Hot air balloons take flight (weather permitting).

• 8 p.m. – Hot air balloon glow at dusk.

Saturday, Aug. 14:

• 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. – Burger Fest Car Show.

• 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. – Burgers, French fries, hot dogs, cheese curds, soda and water available for purchase.

• 11 a.m. – The world’s largest hamburger parade at 11 a.m. This year’s theme is Burgers on the Beach.

• 12:00-1:30 p.m. – Performances by high school bands from Seymour, Pulaski and Freedom.

• 12-4:30 p.m. – Kids events, including an inflatable bouncy house.

• 3 p.m. – Serving of the 200-pound hamburger.

• 4-7 p.m – 50/50 raffle. Drawing at approximately 7:30 p.m.

• 4:30 p.m. – Ketchup slide competition. Must be over 18 to participate. Sign up starts at noon.

• 5-7:30 p.m. – Live music from Outlaw’d.

• 6 p.m. – Hot air balloons take flight (weather permitting).

• 8 p.m. – Hot air balloon glow at dusk.

• 8:30 p.m. – Live music by Little Texas.

The cost of admission at the gate on Saturday is $5 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and $10 after 4 p.m., which includes general admission to concerts and most activities.

Children 12 and under are admitted free.

Reserved concert seating is an additional cost.

There is no admission cost for hot air balloon rally events.

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