It was a warm afternoon at Martin Family Park on March 5, as folks gathered to celebrate the inaugural Bluffton Buzzard Day festival.
A number of the large black birds made an appearance overhead, perhaps looking for nibbles from various picnic offerings.
They couldn’t have known that Coby Mozingo was offering possum pilau, fried roadkill chicken, and deviled buzzard eggs.
Jevon Daly, an organizer of the event, welcomed attendees and presented Babbie Guscio, creator of the event, with a box of limited edition Bluffton Buzzard donuts made fresh that morning by Alljoy Donuts.
As Daly and Guscio appreciated the treats, a beat-up – er, vintage! – green Chevy truck circled the park, much like a buzzard circles. And why not? An adult human-sized buzzard was flapping his wings in the bed of the truck.
This was no ordinary buzzard.
This was the original Bluffton Buzzard himself – George Cuthbert Heyward V, a former school teacher, a former mayor of the Town, and designator many years ago of the buzzard as the official bird of Bluffton.
As Heyward and his wife, Lillian, made their way around the festival grounds, people stopped them to chat and admire his outfit. Those who have been around Bluffton for a few years already knew the story behind the buzzard get-up.
For those who didn’t, George’s cousin Tombo Heyward was there to share it. (For a little background here, the two are descendants of the Thomas Heyward who was a South Carolina delegate to the Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence.)
“George was the mayor for eight years here in Bluffton,” Tombo said. “And the mayor immediately preceding him – who will go unnamed, as he is deceased and cannot defend himself – lived right down on the river next to the Bluffton Oyster Factory. And he was mad about the oyster factory being so close to him because it attracted buzzards that would land down on his dock and roost there all day long. And he didn’t like the buzzards.”
Tombo continued the story of how the previous mayor demanded the oyster factory be closed, and even sued the Town to try to force council to close it.
Tombo continued, “Not only did George say ‘no,’ but he goes to the next town council meeting, and has a proclamation issued, proclaiming the buzzard to be the Town bird and protected within the town limits.”
Mayor Heyward also called the helpful bird “God’s picker upper.”
To add a healthy dose of Bluffton eccentricity to the story, the mayor took his buzzard protection plan a step further. For the Bluffton Christmas Parade that year, aided by the one and only Guscio, George rode atop the town’s new garbage truck, dressed as a buzzard, flapping his wings along the entire parade route.
The previous mayor saw him, and never again mentioned the buzzards.
The big buzzard continued to appear in parades for the next six years.
Tombo then read a proclamation issued by current Mayor Lisa Sulka naming March 5, 2023, as George Cuthbert Heyward V Day in Bluffton.
Heyward thanked the town for the surprise proclamation and said he appreciated so many turning out for the day. He also thanked Guscio for helping him “to become reincarnated.”
Daly then invited children to join him up front for his Kaotic Kids music show, which began with him and the kids singing one of his original songs, “A Seagull Stole My Sandwich.” (Seagulls are sort of like beach buzzards, right?)
Kids sang along, shook their shakers, shared their superpowers, jumped and danced along with Daly while the adults in attendance chatted, ate picnic lunches and drank whatever beverages filled their cups.
Secret judges perused the various buzzard costumes and picnic displays.
As the kids show ended, Guscio announced the winners.
Corzingo’s Buzzard Picnic, prepared by Doug Corkern and his daughter Coby Mozingo, took top honors in that category.
For the costume competition, to nobody’s surprise, the winner was the original buzzard. Heyward received a statue of a buzzard, aptly named George, crafted by artist Wally Palmer and presented by the artist and Guscio. Heyward was instructed that he could take the trophy home for a year, and had to promise to bring it back next year.
Heyward had more thanks to offer for this surprise as well. “I thought I was over and done at this age, but this is all due to Babbie, who is always stirring the cultural cauldron.”
At the end of the event, Daly turned his music back on and played for all to hear the tribute song he wrote for Guscio: “Babbie Guscio, Babbie Guscio, you’re a superstar! Babbie Guscio, Babbie Guscio, everybody loves you!” The last line was perhaps the best: “Keeper of the flame.”
And so she is.