Putting the heritage back in Heritage Fest

Ypsilanti’s Heritage Festival used to be about more than just ugly people in too tight clothing, funnel cakes, moon walks full to the brim with mouth-breathing hooligans, and the inhalation of elephant ears. In decades past, it was about… well… the actual heritage of Ypsilantians. It’s been lost slowly over time, but, as I understand it, the event was once primarily about remembering our ancestors, and the sacrifices that they made so that we might enjoy the luxuries we do today. As evidenced by last week’s Heritage Fest, though, that’s all but gone now. But, the good news is, there’s a movement afoot to see it returned. The following comes from Laura at the Dusty Diary:

…We decided we’d be the change we’d like to see in Heritage Fest.

Sweetie started writing a bunch of ideas down on paper. He planned a set of 19th-century games, including quoits, horseshoes, and the hoop-toss game “graces,” that he’d run. Dusty D thought a demonstration of 19th-century clothes-washing in a wooden tub might be interesting. Things that people can touch and interact with. We sat up all night, writing down ideas. A display of the amount of wood you’d need to get through a winter. A stump in which to grind corn, as was done in settlement times. A butter churn. We already own a ton of cast iron items with which settlers would have cooked. We can contribute that.

It’s time for the next generation of historical folks to step up and remind people of the “Heritage” portion of Heritage Fest.

Dusty D and sweetie have 12 months to get together a wooden washing machine, period clothes, and friends to help. Dusty D has already scoped out ebay for wooden washing machines and JoAnn Fabrics for canvas for our tent. I can sew it up myself on our 1920s sewing machine. Help us, please, dear readers, revive the Heritage portion of Heritage Fest!…

Sounds like a worthwhile endeavor, no?

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  1. Aardvark
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Some things noticed or missed this year at the Heritage Festival…

    Hardly any re-enactors camping out overnight at the Living History encampment (southeast side of Riverside park)

    No water tower tours… again. What a great view of the City from up there

    No “low-level” fireworks (that was so neat last year)

  2. Idea Man
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I want an Iggy Pop reenactor!

  3. FTP
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    This would have been a perfect opportunity for you to bring up the white slaves of Kentucky who were brought here against their will to work in our factories.

  4. CCC
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Maybe you could also get that segway riding redcoat.

  5. Joanne
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Please get rid of the second rate “art” junk that is sold. Encourage more local and Washtenaw County groups to have booths/tents. We need more pictorial and other displays of the area, more live action events set up and not just a few chuck wagons and Union soldiers. Maybe it should be city wide-go from historical building to historical building (Firehouse museum, Ladies Library, the Historical Museum and homes) where interactive retellings are set up. Think more Greenfield Village and less the worse of Art Fair. I’m not against including music, games, or rides. But where is the heritage?

  6. Peri
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    I have never understood Heritage Fest and always have left saying, where’s the heritage? I love the ideas posted here. There is so much potential! (I will say that I love the spaghetti dinner and pancake breakfast — and my toddler loves the animals!) Could some of the historical places in town bring something to the fair, i.e. an old fire truck (yes, I have a toddler), etc.

  7. Kurt A
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    The lack of Heritage at the Heritage Fest has been a concern of mine and a lot of people for a number of years. The festival, in my mind, has sold out for money. Bingo Tent, Gambling Tent, Paid Parking, Letting any crap get sold (my favorite was the pot-pipe and knife booth). I know they have to make money to continue but I’d rather see a smaller festival centered around Ypsilanti than what we have now. The thing to do is to organize a group and start showing up to Heritage Festival Planning meetings. I have some ideas too and would be willing to be part of such a group. If showing up to the meetings doesn’t work we can always host Shadow-Heritage-Fest.

  8. YpsiPawz
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Shadow-Heritage-Fest. Now that is an idea! Maybe that would actually have something to make it worth showing up. Unless your idea of a good time is trying to squirm your way through large groups of rowdy teenagers. Or watching fights break out. Or listening to bad music. Or eating bad carnival food.

  9. Andy Ypsilanti
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    I attended my first Heritage Fest planning meeting this year, and it was very interesting. There is definably a lot of money going around in there, and lot of folks who have been at it a long time and have a definite idea of what Heritage Fest should be. As an observation, there also seemed to be some folks there who have some new ideas, but are waiting their turn to bring them in.

    There were some definite improvements this year also. The Bike Valet was cool, but needed to be advertised better, and at all entrances of the park. The Jamboree stage and Aubree’s (affordable) beer tent were great too. It was kind of like the old EMU Jazz stage. Having the Crossroads festival area up and running as part of Heritage Fest was great as well, and brought downtown into the mix. I didn’t get a chance to take the home tour, but that seems to be a fine showcase of part of our history.

    I was surprised at how little history there was at the Heritage Fest this year. I worked through the Festival last year, and it seems that there has been a drastic reduction in actual history displays since I was last there and certainly since my first Heritage Festival. Where is our display about the Real McCoy, or Ypsi Underwear, the Rail yards, and so on? But let’s face it; this has never been about History. The first Heritage fest was a celebration of new sidewalks in Depot Town; seeing all those people out and about encouraged folks to do it again. You can check out the AA.com story here: http://www.annarbor.com/passions-pursuits/the-concrete-origins-of-ypsilantis-heritage-fest/

    Ok, I know this is going to get me in trouble but I’m going here anyway. Quite a few of the folks at the Heritage Fest planning meeting were the same folks who were so opposed to the use of the dreaded “tucky”. Why? Because, according to the argument, it brought out a dark chapter in our history, and because it made us look like hicks. So where are the highlights of our history in our Heritage Festival? Where are the displays on the many brilliant and influential Ypsilantians? Tucker, McCoy, and so on. A showcase of cars with a connection to Ypsi, instead of a “Nightmare Cruise”. A model railroad depicting Depot Town as it was during the Golden Age of Rail. A tour of the Tucker house added to the Home tour. (btw if anyone knows why the Tucker house is restored but empty, I’m curious.) Is our history really represented by a giant craft show, foam walking dogs, elephant ears, pop guns, a beer tent, and bingo? Does any of that prevent us from looking like hicks? If we are going to make such a fuss over crafting the image our history into a perfect ideal, into a white wash of all that was ever bad about us, then where is the effort to do so?
    Next year, we need to do one of two things. One would be show up and put in the effort to teach people about our history as a City. Organize a History walking tour, talks about our influential fore fathers. I went to the History museum and talked to many fine folks that have a lot to say about our history. Let’s get them out into the Festival, under a tent and on a microphone! If we can’t get these things worked into the festival, then it’s time for option two; Shadow Heritage Fest: this time it’s really about history.

  10. Curt Waugh
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    We checked out “Heritage” Fest a couple years ago. I got a priceless photo of a very pregnant woman smoking. That’s my one highlight of the thing. The rest was out-of-town vendors of shit. Who runs this thing and why in god’s name would anybody want to put Ypsi’s name on it? Let’s force them to call it “The Festival” because I’m offended at the word “heritage”. (Makes just about as much sense as the festival who’s name cannot be spoken.)

    We also went to the fireworks where we wedged in between every drunk-ass dreg of humanity that could find its way to Frog Island Park that night. The topper was the great conversation on the way out between the 4 drunk-ass trailer trash 40-somethings about who had the cocaine.

  11. kjc
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    yikes, a few class issues here…

    Dusty D’s ideas sound great. This was the first year I went. Definitely confusing.

  12. David Choberka
    Posted August 27, 2009 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    I have two ideas for the Heritage Festival.

    1) The most important and serious absence at the Festival is a celebration of the importance of the Great Migration in Ypsilanti history (the black migration from the rural South to the industrial North). That and more attention to the various immigrant cultures seems to me more like real Ypsi heritage than pioneer reenactments.

    2) I also had the Iggy Pop idea. I wouldn’t be surprised if we could get Iggy Pop to come and be in the parade.

  13. Linda
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    the festival is in dire need of volunteers. It would be great if all the neighborhood associations took over a different event..say local art in the street, antique show, local food tent etc etc

  14. Andy Ypsilanti
    Posted August 28, 2009 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    That’s a great idea. But please put out a louder call for volunteers! I try to read all of the Ypsi Papers/Blogs/Ect and I never saw a volunteer request. I know Heritage Fest happens every year, but I, for one, could always use a reminder. I was recruited by a friend this year to help, but I never heard a call for volunteers, even at the planning meeting. I think your idea of going to the individual neighborhood associations is a great way to start.

  15. Marshall
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    What few, if anyone, on this blog is taking into consideration is the fact that the Heritage Festival is FREE admission. However, it is a very, very costly event to put on. Does anyone think that the entertainment is free? Where is the money coming from? Yes, sponsors give money but I am sure that the current downswing in the economy has caused greatly diminished contributions at this festival as it has at most other festivals. Another way of making money is to have vendors who pay to display their goods.

    I have been going to this festival for many years and frankly, although I liked the “heritage” part of it when it was more available, relatively few people bothered to check it out.

    I also believe that the Civil War Muster was sponsored and organized largely by one person who is no longer able to do it. The festival is struggling to stay around and stay free in spite of naysayers like those on this blog who seem to think that any misdeed observed from one or two visitors is representative of the entire festival. I have been to many festivals around the United States and I assure you, the Heritage Festival is one of the best run FREE festivals I have ever come across. I saddens me to see the mean-spirited comments being left here. I am also sure that they are being left by people who wouldn’t dream of volunteering!

  16. YpsiPawz
    Posted August 31, 2009 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Marshall – while the intent of the Heritage Festival is good to keep the event free – I would argue that is exactly the problem with it. If they charged a nominal cover (say $2), it would allow them to (a) not extensively rely on vendors selling shit (b) expand programming to actually have something that relates to the heritage of the city (c) keep much of the riffraff out, let’s face it – a couple bucks would go a long way to keep out the teenagers that ruin it for everyone, keeping people like me at home.

    And really, is $2 too much for a day of entertainment these days? I heard on the radio that 80,000 people come to the festival. Simple math – 80.000 x $2=$160,000. Seems like that would help a ton! I hope they get it right before it’s too late…

  17. Andy Ypsilanti
    Posted August 31, 2009 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think that we are totaly knocking Heritage Fest. It is truly a great event. We’re just saying that it could be even better. Also, you’ll note that some where in there we talked about volunteering, and mentioned that the call for volunteers doesn’t go out as loud and clear as it could…

  18. Carl Lumberg
    Posted September 4, 2009 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    There are lots of Monday morning quarterbacks here who like to tell us “what the Festival” should do” …

    Get involved! The meetings are open to everyone and they are always in need of volunteers!

    Until then, your comments don’t really mean that much do they?

  19. Carl Lumberg
    Posted September 4, 2009 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Also – if you charge, even a nominal fee, you will not get 80,000 people … because its a free event is WHY it draws so many people!

  20. Evelyne
    Posted August 27, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to suggest that, during Heritage Fest, all of our local prostitutes dress in old-timey clothes.

  21. D
    Posted October 8, 2011 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    I can’t wait for the future reenactments of those pioneers who opened our first pot stores.

One Trackback

  1. By Only you can save Heritage Fest on October 10, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    […] thoughts on Heritage Fest, for better or worse, are well documented. Regardless of what I may have said in the past, though, I do think that it’s imperative that […]

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