Blessing of the Hounds Graces Thanksgiving Morning

The Aiken Hounds’ annual Blessing of the Hounds in the Hitchcock Woods is one of Aiken’s favorite, longstanding Thanksgiving traditions. Each year, the ceremony is part of the Aiken Hounds’ Opening Meet, which officially kicks off Aiken’s busy hunt season. Now in its 99th season of hunting in the Woods, Aiken Hounds is one of four hunt clubs in the area.

Aiken Hounds is distinguished as having the oldest drag hunt in the nation. In a drag hunt, cloth saturated with fox scent is dragged across the terrain to create a trail for the hounds to follow. Mounted riders follow the pack, which is rewarded at the end of the artificial chase.

The Reverend Joseph Whitehurst, Assistant Rector at St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church, will officiate over the event again this year. The ceremony pays homage to the various traditions of foxhunting, to the heritage of Aiken’s historic hunt culture, and to the skilled hounds that make this sport so engaging.

As is the custom every year, the community is invited to observe the ceremony, which takes place at Memorial Gate in Hitchcock Woods at 11 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day. The ceremony lasts for about 30 minutes, but visitors should allow 90 minutes altogether for finding a parking spot and walking to Memorial Gate and back to their vehicles.

For the safety of pedestrians, no vehicles (including golf carts and all motorized vehicles) will be permitted beyond the intersection of Laurens Street and South Boundary Avenue. Visitors should know that the distance from this point to Memorial Gate is six-tenths of a mile. The return walk is a slight uphill grade.

Attendees are advised to leave their dogs at home. Those bringing dogs will be turned away in deference to other pedestrians and to avoid distraction of the hounds during the ceremony. Attendees also are reminded that smoking is prohibited in Hitchcock Woods.

In the event of rain, guests may inquire about the status of cancellation by calling the Hitchcock Woods Foundation at 642-0528 or the Aiken Hounds at 643-DRAG.

Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Hitchcock founded the Aiken Hounds in 1914. Today, Linda Knox McLean, Larry Byers, and Joey Peace are the Joint Masters of Foxhounds. Ms. McLean also is a longtime trustee of the Hitchcock Woods Foundation and is the Carolinas District Representative on the board of the Masters of Foxhounds Association of America.