GILMER, Texas (KLTV) - The decision to cancel one of the oldest festivals in Texas was not easy but necessary, according to the Gilmer city manager.
Greg Hutson tells us the Upshur County Judge Todd Tefteller canceled the Yamboree Fireworks Show and the 83rd East Texas Yamboree in consultation with the City of Gilmer, the Yamboree Association and the Gilmer Chamber of Commerce.
“It was a hard decision. I mean, you’re talking about the identity of Gilmer is the Yamboree. It’s been going on since 1935 except for those four years of World War II,” Hutson said. “While we didn’t pull the trigger, we’re in agreement with the county judge. We’re in this together. At the end of the day, I think the right decision was made. I can lay my head down at night and go to sleep because really what we’re talking about is a public health issue.”
Hutson said canceling the Yamboree fireworks and the festival is in the best interest of public health and safety — especially since more than half the population in Gilmer is 55 and older.
“We’re talking about a community where this virus is statistically speaking, if you’re like me, I’m 60, my odds of surviving are a little less than a young person. So, we’ve got to look out for our community,” he said. “Upshur County has been very fortunate so far as it relates to the number of infections.”
As of Tuesday evening, Upshur County had 48 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 21 recoveries and no deaths.
“But we’re right smack dab in the middle of a hot bed: Smith County, Gregg County and Titus County,” Hutson said.
The latest figures show Smith County with with 618 confirmed cases, Gregg with 354 and Titus with 799.
“People say ‘well, Titus County was for those processing plants. I get that, but those people go out into the community. Doesn’t matter where they got it,” Hutson said.
Each year, the Yamboree pulls in about 80,000 people. Hutson said those people would be coming from Smith, Titus and Gregg counties, as well as from the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.
“We cant take the chance risking other people’s lives just so we can have a carnival and a pageant,” he said. “The key thing here in the city is social distancing. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts, you have to social distance. You can’t social distance on the square with a carnival.”
Hutson also cited the fatalities linked to COVID-19 as related to casualties of war.
“In the Korean War over 33,000 people were killed. In the Vietnam War, 59,000 were killed. Today, the numbers on the COVID-19 exceed both those fatalities of U.S. servicemen to date as it relates to COVID-19. And when I look at World War II, and there was 405,000 people killed, we’re about a third of the way there right now,” Hutson said. “We’re talking about the same issue. We just don’t see the enemy. It’s an unseen enemy. I believe we have a responsibility to do what’s right in the interest of public health.”
Hutson is also concerned about another potential statewide shut down order from Gov. Greg Abbott if the numbers continue to trend up.
“It’s on his desk. It’s to be considered that he does a shut down order. That will finish off a lot of the businesses here. God forbid that that should happen, but if we don’t take the precautions that we need, that’s the next option,” he said.
Despite having to cancel one of the largest festivals in East Texas, Hutson is optimistic.
“Gilmer’s brightest days are ahead of us. The sun will come up again, and people need to look forward to that day,” he said. “At the end of the day, what’s more important? The lives of our citizens and this community and anybody else that comes here, or something that we’ve done since 1935. I don’t want grandma and granddad to come down with this COVID-19 because we had a Yamboree festival.”