In 1954, Hermon Allen, principal of the Luling Elementary School, proposed the idea of a celebration to honor the growers and promote the Luling watermelon market. A contest was held to name the event and the winner was a young man from Luling High School, Mr. Carol Ferguson. From that time, the Thump has been held the last Thursday through Sunday in June.
Time changes everything and the Thump has been no exception. Numerous events and attractions have been added and the 4 day annual event now draws an estimated 30,000 visitors to a town of 5,000.
The biggest Black Diamond champion melon in the festival’s history weighed in 141 pounds (2019). Through the years, two brothers-in-law volleyed back and forth as holders of the most champion melon titles. The tally now stands at six championships for one and seven for the other and in most other years the duo has managed to “place” or “show” in the event. The Black Diamond, popular in the 1950’s, is the only acceptable variety for Championship honors, but its use as a shipping melon has fallen to the bright green, striped Jubilee melon with its dark red meat, which is now the primary kind grown around Luling.
The Thump has gained recognition in past years by sending the champion melon to celebrities. Art Linkletter received several, Johnny Carson was presented the 1972 champ, and President Ronald Reagan got the 1981 big melon. The 1989 Champion was displayed and devoured on the popular country-western show “Nashville Now”, and in 1992 the grand champion made its debut on the popular “Crook and Chase: program. Spitting champions have also been featured guests on the Tonight Show starring Jay Leno, the Regis and Kathy Lee Show, and Howie Mandell’s show.
In 1989 a Guinness World Record was set for the first time in Luling for the longest watermelon seed-spit. The record of 65 feet, 4 inches was set by John Wilkinson, a festival attendee from Houston, Texas. Then in 1989, a local man, Lee Wheelis, re-established the record spitting a distance of 68 feet, 9 1/8 inches. This year a $500 cash prize will be awarded to the top spitter in the Championship Contest and should Luling’s record distance be broken, an additional $500 will be added to the top prize.
Inquiries from all over the world are received at Thump headquarters each year. Thump organizers are somewhat puzzled by all the national attention at times, but have decided it must be the name “Thump” – it just sounds like fun. A Thump Queen is crowned each year, and she presides over the giant Watermelon Thump Parade, which starts promptly at 10 a.m. on Thump Saturday. Floats from far and wide participate, as well as local and military bands, Shriners and clowns. The cool summer morning setting prompts residents and visitors alike to line the entire route with lawn chairs several rows deep, sit back, relax and enjoy the smooth-moving show.
Other highlights of the four-day activities include a carnival, concert/dances, food booths, beer garden with continuous live entertainment, children’s entertainment, and an exhibitors market. There are seed-spitting and melon eating contests, an auction of the top melons, and an arts and crafts exhibit.
Mr. Allen probably never envisioned the likes of today’s Thump, but what he started in motion has gained a life of its own. Sadly, Mr. Allen passed away in 1998, but organizers will never forget the man who started it all as we celebrate this year of “Thumping” in Luling, Texas.
Just say “Thump” around Central Texas and you’re sure to find a friend.