Apple "Shirley" Annie hands out last fruit

Shirley Stout as Apple Annie spent 20 years handing out the tasty fruit during Heritage Christmas.

Shirley Stout decided it is time to pass along her basket. The original Apple Annie has brought cheer to Heritage Christmas since its inception in 1991. Turning 77 recently, the Greencastle woman has stepped down.

"It was just a fun, wonderful thing to do," she said.

She was a fixture at the three Friday evening events in late November into mid-December, depending on when the holidays fell.

When the Greencastle-Antrim Chamber of Commerce started the community celebration, then director Lori Coover Lashley and the late Pat McCracken rounded up local citizens to help promote the downtown during the shopping season. They asked Stout to be a peasant woman handing out apples.

"There's no other perfect character for that role," Lashley said at the 20th anniversary of Heritage Christmas.

Stout and others tred upon new territory. Frank Mowen was the Town Crier, Russ and Dody Clever were Belsnickles, Terry Musselman played dulcimer, and other people brought talents to provide free entertainment for the crowds.

Stout's character came from the movie "Pocketful of Miracles", in which Apple Annie is a beggar with a basket of apples. A bootlegger thought they brought good luck.

For the past two decades, Stout gave away the apples, always telling people, "These are special apples to give you health, wealth and happiness. Merry Christmas."

She noticed that children always bit right into the fruit.

Stout wore the same costume every year, and packed it away in the attic in the interim. It included a green jacket, black skirt, buggy blanket shawl which earned a few moth holes, and knit mittens with leather patches that she mended time and again. She has no idea how many apples she gave away each Christmas. She and her husband Jerry bought a couple bushels, and she would carry some in the basket. When they were gone, she returned to her car for refills. For the past several years, Tracey's Orchard has donated the apples.

"I'm going to miss it," said Stout. "I always chose Red Delicious because they are Christmasy. Jerry helped me at the end, because the basket gets really heavy. Tracey's apples are huge."

She enjoyed the interaction with the public. Once a little girl ran up and gave her a big hug. "Apple Annie," she cried. "I have been looking everywhere for you."

Stout has fond memories of her prolonged experience. "It was a magical, wonderful thing."