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Just dropping by: Seymour Burger Fest

34th annual event drew thousands of people to the city’s downtown area

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August 23, 2023

0_Pv8z568C4SEYMOUR – When you hear the words “Triple Crown,” what’s the first thing that pops to mind?

Maybe it’s Secretariat winning the 1973 Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.

Or, maybe it’s Ted Williams leading Major League Baseball with a .356 batting average, hitting 32 home runs and driving in 114 runs in 1947.

Though great, those accomplishments pale in comparison to what I did Saturday, Aug. 12 – which also happened to be my birthday – at Burger Fest in Seymour.

Decked out in a hard-to-miss, colorful burger suit, I first traveled to Seymour for the Bun Run 5K.

I got some crazy looks walking around the start area, but when the WIXX gang requested a photo with me, I knew I had made it to the big time – yes, it has gone to my head.

The weather was in the low 60s and sunny, so after a few minutes, I was sweating profusely.

Running a 5K is hard enough for me and even harder in a burger suit.

 Rich got into the spirit of Seymour Burger Fest by sporting this outfit during the 5K Bun Run. Meg Domnick Photo

The people on the course provided motivation for me – cheering me on and commenting on the outfit.

One older gentleman even yelled “nice buns” as I ran by him. 

Crossing the finish line in fewer than 30 minutes, I was proud of my effort – high heart rate and all.

I managed to take second in the 50-59 age group – although I shouldn’t tell you there were only three participants in my class.

Six hours later, I was sitting at a table with 10 other participants in the burger-eating contest – as hundreds of people sat witness.

Being a newbie to the contest, I noticed a gentleman standing next to me putting a pair of rubber gloves on before the burgers were consumed. 

I quickly realized he was there in case a participant needed assistance with a lodged burger or bun – good idea! 

Fortunately, nobody needed his services. 

I like a good burger as much as anyone, but because there were no condiments available, you had to eat the burgers dry – with the help of some water to moisten things up. 

The burgers were supplied by the Seymour Dairy Queen, so kudos to them for their donation.

I didn’t have any grand ideas of winning, so I sat back and watched the big boys eat – and eat they did.

The winner shoveled 11 burgers down his throat in 12 minutes.

He was no Joey Chestnut, but it was impressive, nonetheless.

I hadn’t eaten much before the competition, so I considered the two burgers I ate to be my lunch.

After eating the burgers, I sat and listened to “Whiskey Ditch” play 80s tunes. 

Sitting at a picnic table, a gentleman walked by, pointed at me and said, “You’re a legend.”

I’m not sure why he said that, but I laughed, nonetheless. 

The grand finale of the event was the ketchup slide – well, it was some ketchup, which was again donated by Dairy Queen, mixed in with a bunch of water.

The current “Hamburger Charlie,” Ben Braun, is all smiles at Seymour Burger Fest. Photo Courtesy of The Business News Staff

A few dozen brave souls – including yours truly – wanted to see if we could break the record of more than 250 feet.

Participants got a running start and went head first down the slide in a Superman pose to have as little surface area as possible hitting the mat.

I wore a GoPro for the first run, but as soon as I hit the slide, the device flew off my head and landed on my backside.
For 96 feet, it sat there watching the huge crowd cheer me on.

In my second run, I managed 97 feet – breaking my record by a foot.

The winner sloshed his way down the slide for more than 180 feet before finally coming to a stop.

Running a 5K in a funny burger suit, shoving burgers in my mouth in front of hundreds of people and sliding my way down a river of ketchup in front of 1,000 people or more wasn’t easy for me – I’m typically the man behind the words – but I did it – and now I’m proud to say I completed my own “Triple Crown.”

How it all began
Is Seymour really the home of the hamburger?

According to Bill Collar, the original Seymour Burger Fest “Hamburger Charlie,” the answer is a resounding “yes.”

“We have the evidence to back that statement up,” Collar, a retired Seymour High School history teacher/coach, said. “Several other communities have claimed to be where the burger originated –  Hamburg, New York; New Haven, Connecticut; and Athens, Texas.”

However, several years back, Collar said representatives of all the cities were invited to Akron, Ohio to appear before the “Burger Commission” to determine the true home of the hamburger.

“After internet voting, Seymour was picked as ‘The Home of the Hamburger,’” he said.

The first official Seymour Burger Fest took place in 1989, but the story behind why the Outagamie County community of 3,500 is considered the “Home of the Hamburger” dates back almost 150 years.

“Charlie Nagreen grew up in Hortonville and traveled to Seymour with his meatballs to the Seymour Fair in 1885,” Collar said. “He eventually smashed the meatballs between two pieces of bread (so it would be easier for people to eat while walking around to see the exhibits). We contacted Charlie Nagreen’s daughter, Violet Gauerke, and she provided newspaper articles and numerous artifacts.”

Collar said some of these objects are displayed at the Seymour Community Museum.

To take advantage of this claim to fame, Collar said the economic development agent for Outagamie County at the time, David Muench, suggested Seymour put on a festival.

“There were about 50 people at the meeting,” he said. “Being a history teacher, I always dressed up like historical characters in my classroom. I was asked by Tom Duffey to show up to the meeting dressed like ‘Hamburger Charlie’ and sing the hamburger chant. I burst into the meeting in my white chef’s outfit and red suspenders and sang, ‘Hamburger, hamburger, hamburger, hot, with an onion in the middle and pickle on top, makes your lips go flippity flop. Come on over, try an order fried in butter, listen to it sputter.’”

From then on, Burger Fest has been an annual staple in Seymour.

Collar said he portrayed Hamburger Charlie for about seven or eight years before his football coaching duties began to interfere.

“Bill Tubbs took over for me, but after I retired from coaching in 2001, I returned for about 10 years,” he said. “John Steltz then took over from me, and now it’s Ben Braun.”
Planning, and lots of it
As thousands of people invade downtown Seymour during Burger Fest weekend, it might be easy to forget the hundreds of volunteer hours that went into the planning.

Courtney Heagle, board member of The Home of the Hamburger organization, said it’s the behind-the-scenes planning that makes Burger Fest go off without a hitch.

“As soon as one Burger Fest is completed, we start planning for the next year,” she said. “We have a debriefing within a month of the event – how everything went, the financials and the good and bad. One of the first things we try to book is our music – those book out pretty far in advance.”

Heagle said she joined the board about five years ago because of the need.

“There was a newspaper article that said, ‘Home of the Hamburger Burger Fest is going to completely dissolve if we don’t get more volunteers,’” she said. “Three people stepped up from the community to get involved.”

When the calendar turns to the new year, Heagle said that’s when the serious planning begins.

“We make a month-by-month list of what needs to be done,” she said. “On top of everything, the balloon rally is a lot of work, too. Having two different events in two different spots, that’s a lot. There are only about five or six of us who basically plan the event. It’s tough to get as many volunteers as we need.”

Heagle said the hamburger board meets once a month in the early part of the year and ramps up to twice a month during the summer months preceding Burger Fest.

“We have staple events every year (parade, burger-eating contest, ketchup slide, etc.), but we are always open to suggestions,” she said. “When I was younger, Burger Fest did bed races – we’re exploring bringing back activities like that back. Again, we need assistance from more volunteers to make that happen.”

Thanks to the nice weather this year, Heagle said it was “probably the best-attended Burger Fest since 2019.”

“I was excited to see how many people showed up,” she said. “We had no event during 2020 because of COVID, 2021 was less attended and then last year, the weather wasn’t great. The 35th anniversary will be next year, so I’m expecting another big crowd.”

For more information on the community’s back story, Burger Fest or details on how to volunteer for the annual event, visit

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