(Tallahassee Democrat) WAUSAU –It's not every day people from all over Florida travel to the small town of Wausau, but year-after-year Floridians venture there on the first Saturday of August for one reason — the Annual Possum Festival.
And for the 45th Annual Possum Festival, this year was no exception.
Just off I-10 and down a little paved road, called Possum Palace Drive, is where the event takes place. The Wausau water tower stands high over the event, making it hard to miss. Possum Palace, a big blue building, is at the heart of the event, with vendors sprinkled throughout the field next to it.
The slice of Southern culture began as a small-town benefit in 1970. Possums are celebrated in Wausau because they were a staple food source during the Great Depression.
The small to medium-sized animal is part of the arboreal marsupial species. They carry their young in a pouch, like a kangaroo.
"We got to find out what a possum actually is," Tina Dixon, a stay-at-home mom from Ponce De Leon, said. "It's not just this little rat."
But, the definition of possums isn't new to everyone. The 2014 Possum Queen, Judy Carter (whose stage name is Sadie Mae), has been attending the festival since it began. The Possum Pageant is one of the highlights of the festival, it takes place the Friday before the Saturday events.
Contestants are judged on a possum recipe, appearance and a talent. In the end a Possum King and Queen are announced. This was the second time Carter's been crowned Possum Queen.
"Naturally it's just a beauty contest and I had to beat all the beautiful people in Wausau," said Carter, a native of Wausau. "I was crowned Possum Queen in 1986, my daughter was in 2012 and my granddaughter is going to be queen when she gets old enough."
The Possum Pageant isn't the only event that makes the festival "pawesome." The festivities kicked off at 6 a.m. with the Possum Trot 5K and the "Big 45th Annual Fun Day Parade" followed. Performances were scheduled throughout the day to ensure there was never a dull moment.
The biggest crowd drawer of the day was the possum auction — where Florida politicians bid on possums, along with community members. The possums are released back into the wild after the auction and all the money raised goes towards next year's festival.
Gwen Graham, who is running for U.S. Congress, was the first winning bidder of the auction. She won a mother possum, with 8 babies in the pouch, for $850. Winners of the auction stand in front of the crowd and proudly shake the possum.
Although not a bidder in this year's auction, 4-year-old Laura Belle couldn't wait to have her first experience with the marsupial.
"I came to see the possums, I think they are cute and I want to touch one right now," Belle said. "I just like those animals."
If holding possums isn't your thing, you could always try tasting it at the celebration. Next to gator on a stick, everyone wanted to try the unique dish with a side of taters.
"Possum is actually really good," Dixon said. "It kind of tastes like chicken."
But, not everyone prefers possum flavor.
"It's indescribable," Carter chuckled. "It's something like you've never had before."