In Fort Wayne, Indiana, a lone grave sits atop a hill in the middle of an empty field. It remains quietly undisturbed during the year, except for one weekend in September when more than 200,000 people converge on the surrounding area to pay tribute to the man buried there.
John Chapman, otherwise known as Johnny Appleseed, was born in Massachusetts in 1774. He traveled throughout the Midwest, planting fruit trees and mainly apples, for the pioneers who settled there. The last 10 years of his life were spent around Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he eventually succumbed to illness and died in a friend’s cabin. He was buried in what is now considered the north side of the city.
For several decades the city of Fort Wayne has hosted a FREE festival in his honor. It is designed to give visitors a chance to experience life in the 1800s. I love the fact that the participants strive to provide authentic period foodstuffs, including ham and beans with stone ground corn bread, cider, buffalo burgers and fry bread that are made the way Johnny might have made them. From apple dumplings to chicken and noodles, your tummy will thank you for attending.
A section near the grave, known as Living History Hill, becomes a live military community with solders from the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and Civil War living within period encampments. They eagerly answer questions from visitors about the time periods they represent, while trappers, traders and mountain men entertain the crowd with feats of tomahawk and knife throwing.
In Pioneer Village women dressed in long skirts and mobcaps demonstrate spinning, dyeing, weaving, basketry and soap making duties, while blacksmiths, metal smiths, potters, leather workers, broom makers, and wood carvers show off their skilled trades.
Children wind through a straw maze, milk goats, or dip candles. The Indian Village offers opportunities to view dances reminiscent of the tribes that lived in the area. Visitors can help tan a deer hide inside a life-size teepee. Personalities of the time period, like Abraham Lincoln, stroll throughout the festival grounds. The festival’s namesake, Johnny Appleseed, can be seen, shaking hands and bending ears with his tall tales.
I particularly love the sounds of this festival. Cannon fire signals the beginning of opening ceremonies each day at Johnny’s grave site. Crowds part for the bagpipe bands and fife and drum corps that march at frequent intervals. A few feet away someone sweetly plays a dulcimer on the stage. Fiddlers are also scheduled, along with storytellers, magicians, cloggers and melodrama.
This year’s festival will be held September 15 (10am-6pm) & September 16 (10am-5pm). For more information, go to www.johnnyappleseedfest.com.