Some of you may not know but my hometown Pekin Indiana is well known for one thing; hosting the longest consecutive running 4'th of July celebration! It's something I am immensley proud of (along with much of the other local history of the area) and something that anyone else in Pekin or Washington County should be proud of. Unfortunately for the entirity of my lifetime the celebration has been on a downhill slide (minus the awesome Guiness world record breaking spoon playing of Pekin native Steve Tankersly at this past years celebration) and has moved away from anything which for the most part represents the town, the culture and least of all the history.
In the past several years short of a prince and princess and king and queen contest the celebration has failed to celebrate what makes this town unique, sinking down to having a small midway, cheap Chineese made crap trinkets, and a flea market. To me this is unacceptable. As well far too much money has been spent on far little.
Fortunately this year I decided to get involved and contribute some ideas. I don't expect all of my ideas to necessarily be well accepted and nor do I believe my ideas will change the festival in a single year, but you have to start somewhere. The biggest hurdle likely will be getting others in my age group involved in the festival (well that and the fact that the deed to the park includes a covenant against alcohol on the premises).
Ultimately, it all seems to be working out for the better as the Pekin Betterment (this is the organization, independent of the town, responsible for the festival) welcomed me in with open arms and they seem to be aware that new blood is needed and things need to change. Part of this is likely due to the deep deficit they have ran in recent years hiring in outside musical acts and over priced midway equipment.
Some of the valid points I have tried to bring to the table include:
-Why do we pay musicians and entertainment from out of town that are not related to our culture or history in any way and serve only to cheapen the event. Moreover, why do we pay at all, if this festival was where it needed to be it would be a privelage for these folks to play at the event.
-Why do we not have historical re-enactments including demonstrators as well as revolutionary and union and confederate troops on hand
-Why do we need a midway when we could instead bring the community together and make it a more memorable event for all involved by having childrens games such as sack races, cornhole, watermelon eating contests, exct as well as sports based contests with community teams.
-Why do we have a flea market that is litterally on the leading edge of the festival where it can be seen by all who pull up. It looks bad on the town and the culture.
-Why is it reffered to as "Pekin Park" when it was deeded as "Gills Grove" to the betterment/town and should be billed as such in honor of the family who donated it.
Luckily, for the most part these folks have been highly receptive to my thoughts and ideas. Part of this I believe is due to the fact that I am part of the new Washington County Artisans and Farmers project that is bringing a new market and commerce into the town and particularly the park. In fact, they have gone way out of their way to offer the new market a spot on the Saturday of the celebration for a way discounted price in order to allow the market to set up during the busiest time in the town. This is something that prior to my joining we were told was off limits and I've been told that we are given this chance so that eventually with can replace the flea market with something totally new, unique, and authentic! I am beyond excited about this
When I brought up the games, they were very interested in my ideas as well. I will follow up on that soon enough.
But most excitingly of all, when I pointed out to them how far the festival had fallen in terms of most of the town avoiding it up until last year when the local spoon player broke a world record and brought the community together again, they agreed and realize they need that "feeling" consistently from year to year and gave me permission to move forward with an idea for the mainstage for this year, so here I present it to you, my faithfull blogger and homegrown audience for review and commentary.
Before reading, here is a bit of history about a subject mentioned. The Pekin Panther is a local legend that has been bandied about for well over 100 years. Cougars are native to Indiana and were once common here although common knowledge dictates that they are all gone from the area (despite constant sightings in neighboring Illinois and recently Indiana). From time to time you will hear folks bring up this living legend as well as sightings therof. Buster Crockett was the town barber at one point, this automatically makes him the center of many past "liars circles" likely many that included Panther stories. Think of him as a modern day Floyd the Barber.
At the moment this is simply a rough concept of an event that will be held at the 2012 Pekin Indiana 4'th of July Celebration. To better cater the event to the town and community at large this page will stand as a way to solicit ideas for this contest as well as to form ...a committee who will help see this event to fruition. If you would like to serve on the committe which will entail helping work out details as well as judging and signing up participants or if you would be interested in participating please e-mail Alan Bishop at email@example.com or call 812-967-2073.
The Ol' Liars Club
2012 Pekin Indiana 4'th Of July Celebration
A celebration of the long held small town tradition of stretching the truth to it's breaking point without cracking a smile!
By : Alan Reed Bishop
Every small town business establishment has one. It's not even discrete, in fact, if you walk into a locally owned resteraunt, caffee, gas station, barber shop, local tavern, or any other institution which actively fosters socialization, you are likely to wonder what all that ruckus over in the corner is about. It's the local Liars club, usually a group of older fellows sharing stories of bygone eras and conquests which may or may not be grounded in some amount of truth.
Often these clubs turn into events of their own, a reminder of our culture, a reminder of what having "character" is all about. Local legends are born this way. Pekin Panthers, 500 lb watermelons and fourty foot Tall mushrooms notwithstanding, it is through these stories that any local "everyman" can become something of a local institution. The best examples are the stories from which you can't seperate the milk from the cream or the lie from the truth, even better are those instances where one mans bending of the truth becomes a full on group effort with each of the participants taking their turn greasing the axels of what constitutes "truth".
We would like to see this local institution celebrated. Particularly in the year when Buster Crockett is being celebrated. Mr. Crockett surely participated and or overheard more than his far share of these circles in his days cutting the hair of some of the best lia...storytellers in the town.
Some may wonder why one would want to celebrate something as devious as a lie, it's quite simple really, it's entertaining and it keeps one on their toes, oftent the lie is told in front of a newcomer to see just how quick on his toes he/she truly is, this is often a sign of being invited into the community and an assurance that next time the joke won't be on you.
Do you have a story to tell, can you stretch the truth in a believable way? Can you do so without cracking a smile? If you can and you can do so in 15 minuites or less come and visit us at the festival. Tell the town your story and make whatever embelishments (family friendly) you can. The more mundane the story begins and the more exuberently it is skewed the better. At the end of the day we will pick ten "storytellers" to put on stage the next day. Props and audience participation will be encouraged!
The next day we will put the ten winners on stage in a circle with Buster Crockett presiding as he would have in the days of his barber shop. The ten contestants will be encouraged to begin a dialoge, based on the local legend of the Pekin Panther, from there they will collaboratively craft a story for the audience based on local townsfolk and should be encouraged to use the names of townsfolk as they craft the story. Our special invited guest on stage at this time will be Steve Tankersly, in honor of his gift to our town via his world record breaking spoon playing at last years celebration.
We will actively seek the help of Traditional Arts Indiana or any other interested parties in recording the event for posterity.
I'm still not sure how to handle this part, perhaps a "key that opens any door in the town" would be a nice sybolic prize as it could be used in future contests as part of a story. I could possibly also work with Washington County Artisans and Farmers on a gift certificate.