In the early 1900's, patrons of Indianapolis would gather in Spades Park, on the city's near eastside, to have a feast and light lanterns. During this time, feasts of lanterns were held around Indianapolis in places such as Woodruff Place and Broad Ripple. However, the feast that was held in Spades Park was considered to be the most impressive.
Attendees would hang thousands of lanterns throughout the park, on trees, bridges and the bandstand that the park was known for. As dusk fell, these lanterns would be lit with candles, creating an illuminated wonder. Events at these festivals included cake walks, music and dancing.
The festival was a yearly tradition for a few decades but began being held intermittently during World War II and was eventually forgotten.
The Feast of Lanterns in Spades Park was given new life in 2003 when members of the Near Eastside Community Organization (NESCO) discovered dated articles highlighting past festivals and decided to revive it.
This year's Feast of Lanterns is being held on August 24th in Spades Park, located in the 1800 block of Nowland Avenue. The feast is a family event and will feature games and art projects for children, as well as a variety of food and beverage vendors.
Melissa Benton serves as the project manager for this year's feast. Previously, the event had been run exclusively by volunteers.
"I passionately love the near eastside. For the past 10 years, every aspect of my life has been about the near eastside. I live, work and worship on the near eastside and I've had a first row seat in the gradual transformation of what is happening here," Benton says. "I really saw organizing this event as an opportunity to showcase to the rest of the city what makes the near eastside so great. Also, I'm at my best when I'm busy and bossy - two qualities definitely required for the organizer."
Admission to the feast and the majority of the kids' activities are free of charge.
"We have a committee that works exclusively to provide great entertainment and activities to the kids and we're proud that we're able to do that without charging," Benton explains.
For the first time, the Windsor Park Neighborhood Association will be hosting a beer garden.
"We hope it will draw a different demographic than we've had before," Benton says. "We're also looking to add some adult games like corn hole and horseshoes so the adults have some activities to do.
The feast will kick-off with a parade on 10th street right before the event starts.
"We know the east siders are a crazy bunch, so we're looking forward to what kind of entries the various groups have come up with," Benton says.
"All 20 of the neighborhood organizations are united under NESCO and the new NESCO president really has some exciting ideas about different opportunities for NESCO to grow," Benton explains. "We want to showcase the near eastside. We do have food vendors and arts and crafts vendors that are not from the near eastside or exclusive to our area, but we have a good number that are from here. We love the opportunity to support our local businesses."
Attendees are encouraged to bring blankets or lawn chairs to enjoy the live music that will be taking place throughout the day. As day turns to night, hundreds of lanterns will be strung up and illuminated throughout the park.
Volunteers began making the lanterns that will be used at the festival months ago. At the end of the night, these lanterns will be sold via a silent auction.
"This is the only place you can buy these unique handmade items" Benton says. "Around 8:30, when it begins to get dark, we'll have the kids do a parade inside the park with lanterns they've made and then we light up the lanterns hanging throughout the park. It really becomes this magical experience when you're in the park at night, sitting on a blanket, hanging out with your friends, with the lanterns all lit and the headliner band playing. It is the best way to end the summer."