Cold temperatures, Ligonier Diamond provide perfect setting for icy menagerie

·3 min read

Jan. 22—Visitors flocked to Ligonier on Saturday to admire a pair of giant chickens and 59 other figures sculpted from ice.

After a bone-chilling night, temperatures rose into the 30s by mid-morning, making ideal conditions for viewing the town's 31st annual Ice Fest.

Although the sun was out in full force on the first day of the weekend festival, ice sculptor Rob Higareda of North Huntingdon was optimistic about the shelf life of the fanciful creations he helped to make for the event, on behalf of Jeannette's DiMartino Ice Co.

With temperatures expected to remain at freezing or below in the days ahead, he said, the sun will take its toll on the sculptures "a little bit, but not that much. They should last a good week or so."

"I think it's fascinating to see what can be done with God's creation," said Nathan Crissman of Windber, who brought his wife and four children to admire the sculptures as one of the field trips meant to enrich their homeschooling. "It's beautiful, even thought it melts quickly. You have to enjoy it."

The family had been to Ligonier before, to indulge in treats at the town's creamery and to explore history at the reconstructed Fort Ligonier. But it was their first time taking in the ice sculptures.

Before leaving, Crissman said, "We're going to get a taste of everything," including generous helpings of kettle corn that drew a steady line at a sidewalk booth.

Cindy Purnell, who chaired the festival for the 22nd year, traded reflections on the event with Roger Luther, the original chairperson. A former Ligonier resident, Luther returned from his current home in Geistown to check out this year's event.

"It's turned out to be such a wonderful event," Luther said. He noted early versions of the festival had a smaller grouping of about 40 sculptures.

"It's so much fun to walk around and see the smiles on people's faces," Purnell said. "They're out enjoying the weather and the kids are having a ball guessing what the sculptures are."

Shapes rendered in icy contours range from a motorcycle and a guitar to an oversized glass slipper and a dripping faucet.

"It's amazing how intricate the sculptures are," said Stephanie Grace of Delmont, who attended the festival for the first time with her husband and two children. "The kids like the animals," she noted.

In addition to chickens, the menagerie includes a shark, a reindeer, a pair of coyotes, a ruffed grouse and several other types of birds.

George Smith of Greensburg accompanied the Delmont family along with his wife, Beenie, who has served as a nanny for the Grace children.

Smith was disappointed by the lack of a frozen throne, featured in past ice fests, and by the fact that visitors couldn't watch the DiMartino sculptors in action, because of pandemic precautions.

"Every year they have to change it," Beenie Smith said.

The festival includes activities in Ligonier's Town Hall. Saturday's schedule featured a spaghetti dinner hosted by the Ligonier Fire Department and the first of two free concerts by Big Fat Jazz.

Candle in the Wind will take the stage for Sunday's musical performance, at 12:30 p.m.

"People like it, and they can come in and get warm," Purnell said.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, or via Twitter .