DECATUR — When Wes Heinkel announced a special “celebrity guest” eater as a participant in the second annual Heinkel’s Hot Dog Eating Contest at Decatur Celebration, a musician or entertainer from the festival seemed like the most obvious candidate.
Participants in the preliminary eat-off for “local media celebrities” certainly didn’t expect they would be going up against a professional eater formerly ranked the No. 2 gustatory athlete on the planet. But that’s the competition they drew, as Chicago’s Patrick “Deep Dish” Bertoletti strode onto stage in an Evel Knievel-style jumpsuit. In a five-on-one battle, Bertoletti prevailed against the field, eating a remarkable 40 hot dogs against the media competitors’ combined total of 33 in 10 minutes.
“I actually emailed Wes to be in the main contest, but they wanted to keep it nonprofessional, so they hatched the idea for me to compete this way,” said a very full Bertoletti after the event. “I didn’t originally know I was eating against five, but when I found out, that got me fired up. I originally said I would probably eat 25 to 30 because I’m not in top eating shape, but they just went down easy and tasted really good. The lean, mild taste made it a really good hot dog for competition.”
Bertoletti knows all about competition as a former member of Major League Eating who still holds world records in 24 events. In his career, he has accomplished such feats as eating 21 pounds of grits, 263 pickled jalapenos and 47 slices of pizza, among others. He now considers himself semiretired from the sport at the age of 28, focusing more on opening a food truck called Glutton Force Five in the Chicago area with fellow pro eater Tim “Gravy” Brown.
“I’ll still do fun events like this, but I’m not really interested in the pro stuff anymore,” he said. “I probably did it for about nine years, around 400 events. The one thing I haven’t won is the Nathan’s Hot Dog contest, but I can’t beat Joey Chestnut, he’s a freaking animal.”
The official Heinkel’s hot dog competition, meanwhile, was won by Chicago resident Frank “The Tank” Wach, who put away 17 hot dogs in 10 minutes to win the $500 prize. He said he once competed professionally “many years ago,” but could never put away hot dogs like Bertoletti.
“Right now, I feel really stuffed, but I think I’ll be OK,” he said after the event. “Actually, the dogs were very good. I wish I could have enjoyed them a little bit more by eating slower.”
It was only Wach’s second-ever trip to Decatur after finishing first in the prelims, in which he ate 16 dogs. He says he’ll return next year if he can.
“It was a little bit harder today than the prelims, but I’m very satisfied with the results,” he said.
FILM FESTIVAL: More than 70 films were received this year in Land of Lincoln Credit Union’s 21 Film Project, according to Vice President of Marketing Chris Phillips. The overall jump in quality was noticeable as well, as the competition continues to attract more national attention from aspiring filmmakers.
“The quality of both the stuff we’re receiving from local filmmakers and the national stuff is getting better and better,” he said. “It was one of the strongest crops of films we’ve ever seen, but I was happy that Best Picture went to a Central Illinois native.”
That native was Taylor Baucom from Camp Point, whose film “Love You Madly” impressed all the competition’s judges.
“From top to bottom, it was beautifully made,” Phillips said. “The acting was spot-in. It was only about two minutes and told a complete, compelling story.”
All the films from the competition will be screening throughout the weekend in Land of Lincoln’s air conditioned tent at the corner of Water and North streets.
MACABRE PAINTER: To call Robert Walker’s paintings a change of pace from the rest of the arts and crafts on Water Street during this year’s Decatur Celebration is an understatement.
There’s plenty of hand-made ornaments, soaps and knickknacks to be found, but Walker’s booth is definitely the only one with images of leech-covered zombies, murderous clowns or a gorilla with its skin flayed off. The entire series of macabre paintings all take place within a single omniverse of sorts that begins with a zombie apocalypse and ends in a new and strange version of Earth.
“The paintings all go together,” said Walker, who has been creating art his entire life. “It starts with the idea that eventually we won’t be able to afford water, because there are already places where a bottle of Coke is cheaper than water. That’s where my zombies come in, because they turn to the only viable source of water, which is other people.
“So then the government tries to fight the plague with atomic weapons. Nature recovers, and that’s where you get my paintings of the mutant animals. And the humans who survive learn to live with their environments, which is where the mermaids and human-animal hybrid paintings come in.”
In effect, the entire thing is an epic fantasy/warning parable that Walker and his partner, Eddie Cooke, have been taking to art fairs around the country for the past two years. The dark content certainly helps them stand out from the pack.
“A lot of the time, the younger crowd, really young kids, they just get it,” Cooke said. “They like that it’s something different, not just butterflies and flowers.”
CHALK ARTIST: Those hanging out near Celebration’s Back Lot Stage on Saturday afternoon had a chance to see a quite a bit of art in progress. Painters worked throughout the day near the intersection of Water and North streets, but nobody’s canvas was as big as Adam Fabianski’s. The 3D chalk artist worked throughout the day with his partner, Elliot Devries, to create an interactive image/photo op spot.
“The final design is a giant octopus chilling in the deep end of a pool, and there’s a rubber raft in the front that he’s grabbing onto,” Fabianski said. “Kids will be able to stand on the raft or the head to pose for pictures and stuff in 3D.”
The chalk artists’ work can be viewed at www.facebook.com/lucidchalk and originally began Friday afternoon before rain showers put an early halt to their efforts. The group actually contains three artists, all of whom attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and graduated with industrial design degrees in 2011.
“We did 20 or 30 pieces like this there, doing them on the quad as self-promotion, and then we started getting calls from people who wanted them as advertisements,” Fabianski said. “Before we knew it, we had this miniature business model going on. We learned just by trial and error. That, and a lot of Googling.”
STAGE RAVE: Michael Sherer christened the new Central Park Stage on Friday night, and Brad Barding and The Second Edition followed their opening ceremonies performance of the national anthem with a late-night show capping off the evening.
Barding gave the revamped stage a thumbs up.
“It’s kind of got an amphitheatre kind of feel now,” he said. “I think it’s much better than the stage they had.”
And the crowd, Barding said, enjoyed the setting of grass instead of a brick-and-cement bowl at the base of the stage.
“People had lawn chairs and blankets spread out and stuff,” he said. “It was really nice.”
FIRST-TIMER: During setup Friday morning, contrasted with the vans, trucks and trailers being unloaded on Celebration grounds, was a relatively tiny Ford Focus. Boxes jammed the vehicle, barely leaving enough room for the driver.
Decatur’s Janice Davis was setting up her crafts stand on Prairie Avenue. She acknowledged this was her first Celebration as a vendor.
“It looks like it, doesn’t it?” she said.
Davis does handmade “eco-friendly” jewelry, using items such as newspaper, plastics and clay to make her wares.
STAR WARS COSTUMERS: Dylan Vanhorn wouldn’t stand out in most crowds, but in the neon orange jumpsuit of an X-wing fighter pilot, he has a tendency to get noticed. The Decatur resident is a member of the Rebel Legion, an international “Star Wars” costuming organization that makes appearances at public events. Along with members of the group’s sister organization, the 501st Legion, who dress as villains, he appeared in costume Friday evening to add a little glitz and glamour to the red carpet walk for Land of Lincoln Credit Union’s 21 Film Project.
“The main purpose of the organization is charity,” said Vanhorn, who believes he is the only member of the organization who actually resides in Decatur. “I’ve done Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, Make a Wish and Relay for Life, and yes, it does get hot running in this suit.”
Vanhorn was joined by a plethora of villains, dressed as memorable characters such as Darth Vader and ranging down to the faceless storm troopers. The villainous Imperial organization actually has more members, perhaps proving the adage that it’s more fun to be bad than be good.
“I think a lot of people like the anonymity of the Vader or storm trooper masks, or think it’s more fun to be bad,” Vanhorn said. “I’ve always been more drawn to the rebel side since rooting for them as a kid. They’ve got a lot of cool stuff, like the Millennium Falcon and the X-wing.”
As a super fan, Vanhorn said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the upcoming Star Wars Episode 7, scheduled for release in 2015.
“I’m hoping they go back to the roots of the series,” he said. “I’m a fan of J.J. Abrams, and I figure if he made me like ‘Star Trek,’ I should be optimistic.”
SELF HELP: Eagles tribute band Heartache Tonight got a big personal assist Friday night from Show Stage Chairman Steve Jackson.
Anticipating the worst, Jackson hauled assorted tarpaulin from his car, and he’d brought along a leaf blower from home. So when the rains came, it was his tarp that covered the electronics on the stage. And when the time came for the stage to be dried, Jackson’s leaf blower was a key player.
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firstname.lastname@example.org|(217) 421-7973; Tim Cain contributed to this story.