News 12 at 6 o'clock / Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012
AIKEN, S.C. -- Bill Joyce was one of the hundreds who did something a little bit unusual this Thanksgiving Day.
"My sister-in-law is from Louisiana. She's never seen if before, so we brought her here today,” Joyce said.
It’s a tradition steeped in history and a tradition that’s also been recognized by the Huffington Post as one of the 10 terrific Thanksgiving traditions.
"We've been coming here almost 20 years now, so it's part of our tradition,” Joyce said.
In fact, tucked behind the borders of Hitchcock Woods is an Aiken tradition now 99 years old -- the Blessing of the Hounds.
"More people came out today than I've seen in several years. I think it may be the most we've ever had. There were 106 riders today, and I have to say, I think there were 500 or 600 people out,” said Linda Knox McLean, the senior master of the Aiken Hounds.
After Father Grant Wiseman of the Saint Thaddeus Episcopal Church reads the blessing, the hunt was on. This drag hunt, at 99 years old, is the oldest one in the country. The pack of fox hounds track down the scent of a fox with their acute sense of smell.
"The English considered foxes to be vermin, so the object was to kill them. Now, in this country, it's much more the chase,” McLean said.
She says the sport was brought to this country by George Washington, who personally enjoyed it in his native Virginia.
Here in Aiken, the riders wear the same green coats designed by the matriarch of Aiken, Louise Hitchcock, whose family opened Hitchcock Woods many years ago to the people of Aiken for all to enjoy.
"We dress up like this not because we are being frou-frou, but because we are paying homage to and tribute to the land owners over whose land we're lucky enough to hunt,” she said.
The hounds are called Penn-Marydels. That's because they originate in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. They are known for their beautiful voices, and you can hear them throughout the woods. Of course, the Aiken Hounds plan something even greater next year. That marks 100 years of this tradition in Aiken.