The Aiken Hounds are the nation's oldest drag hunt and are celebrating their 99th year.
The hunt's nearly century-old tradition, the annual Blessing of the Hounds at Memorial Gate in Hitchcock Woods on Thanksgiving Day, is as much as part of the community's annual holiday celebration as is sitting at the dining room table with family, enjoying conversation, fellowship, turkey, dressing and cranberries.
The Huffington Post recognized the event and ceremony as one of the nation's 10 Most Outstanding Thanksgiving Day traditions.
And for generations, families have made their way into the Hitchcock Woods to witness the event that is interwoven into the fabric of the community.
The ceremony will start at 11 a.m. and will be about 30 minutes long. Jane Page Thompson has organized the stirrup cup, where there will be a special enclosure for social members to enjoy a glass of port.
The Rev. Father Grant Wiseman of St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church will officiate and administer the Blessing of the Hounds. The Penn-Marydel Foxhounds are sure to have a good turnout and are a popular attraction with spectators – both locals and tourists.
Miss Brooke Miller is the Aiken Hounds new junior whip, said Linda Knox McLean, Aiken Hounds joint Master of Foxhounds. The Aiken Hounds will hunt for about an hour and a half. The hunt's other masters are Larry Byers and Joey Peace.
Spectators will also have a chance to view the flights on the Rabbit Valley line on the second drag as they make their way toward the middle of the show ring in Hitchcock Woods at the end of the hunt.
The Blessing of the Hounds remains an important part of Aiken's Thanksgiving Tradition, said Knox McLean, who has deep personal and family ties to the hunt and ceremony.
It's the joy of maintaining a personal tradition that is richly steeped in the traditions of the sport, associated with the community and the Hithcock Woods, said Knox McLean.
“I'm looking forward to a day of thanks, the opportunity to be in the woods with friends, hounds and horses,” said McLean.
No vehicles will be allowed beyond the intersection of Laurens Street and South Boundary Avenue, and visitors should be advised the distance from the entry point of the woods on South Boundary to Memorial Gate is six-tenths of a mile. Dogs are also not permitted in the woods as they may be a distraction to the hounds during the ceremony. Smoking is also prohibited in Hitchcock Woods.
In the event of inclement weather and possible cancellation of the ceremony, call the Hitchcock Woods Foundation at 642-0528 or the Aiken Hounds at 643-3724.
Editor's note: This version of this story has been updated to correct the name of The Rev. Father Grant Wiseman of St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church. The Aiken Standard regrets the error.