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Fire in the Sky

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If you've ever bought into the assertion that there's nothing to do in Indianapolis, be assured -- and happy -- that nothing could be farther from the truth. Among the many festivals, fairs and conventions taking place this summer and into fall, chief among them is the Near East Side Community Organization (NESCO) Feast of Lanterns. The event is family-friendly, for all ages, free and lasts seven hours. Not a bad start.

The original Feast of Lanterns celebrations started before World War I. When World War II started, the event ceased to take place. In the early 2000s, the History and Preservation Committee of NESCO found newspaper articles about the original event and decided to resurrect the festival. This year's Feast of Lanterns, which takes place on Saturday, Aug. 23, will mark the 12th anniversary of the event's return.

Sale of the lanterns benefits NESCO's programs throughout the year, including a bike rodeo and Happy Haunted Halloween.  - FELIPE MARTINEZ
  • Felipe Martinez
  • Sale of the lanterns benefits NESCO's programs throughout the year, including a bike rodeo and Happy Haunted Halloween.

NESCO brings together about 20 neighborhoods that comprise the city's Near East Side, including Woodruff Place, St. Clair Place, Emerson Heights, Otterbein and Little Flower. Of the events that NESCO hosts in order to bring the various neighborhoods together, the Feast of Lanterns is the largest. The turnout is generally anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 people, with the majority of the crowd arriving in the evening for the annual lighting of the trees and lanterns. "The Feast of Lanterns is a chance to show off what makes everything great about the Near East Side," says Melissa Benton, office and grants manager of Near East Area Renewal.

The Feast of Lanterns is held at Spades Park (1801 Nowland Ave.) and will take place from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. this year. Features include food trucks, a beer garden (serving Sun King and Flat 12 brews), vendor booths and live music from:

Bonesetters, seen here performing at Indy CD & Vinyl on Record Store Day 2014, are scheduled to perform at Feast of Lanterns. - WHITNEY WALKER
  • Whitney Walker
  • Bonesetters, seen here performing at Indy CD & Vinyl on Record Store Day 2014, are scheduled to perform at Feast of Lanterns.

Children's activities include use of the park to play on playground equipment, an obstacle course, a fan-making workshop, two appearances by representatives from Animalia, and a glow stick lantern parade. Thanks to sponsors such as Angie's List and Emmis Communications, NESCO is able to offer the kids' events for free. Attendees need only bring money for food (such as a treat from Puka's Hawaiian Shave Ice) or to nab handmade T-shirts, bath products, candles, or woodworking creations from one of the 20 vendors at this year's festival.

The Feast of Lanterns is a fun time for everyone involved, but its namesake is the reason people keep coming back. This year, NESCO will have about 30 lanterns available for bidding during the event's silent auction. NESCO sponsors lantern-making workshops in the months leading up to Feast of Lanterns and invites people of all skill levels to attend. Lantern makers bend and solder wire and cover the form with a design of their own choosing. "It's really cool to watch these things come to life," Benton says, adding they "always turn out really great." One of this year's workshop attendees created a replica of the Eiffel Tower; another formed an octopus. Those and many other types of lanterns will be on the proverbial block until 10 p.m. on the evening of the event.

The Feast of Lanterns is a chance to show off what makes everything great about the Near East Side," says Melissa Benton. - FELIPE MARTINEZ
  • Felipe Martinez
  • The Feast of Lanterns is a chance to show off what makes everything great about the Near East Side," says Melissa Benton.

Sale of the lanterns benefits NESCO's programs throughout the year, including a bike rodeo and Happy Haunted Halloween. The bike rodeo distributes refurbished two-wheelers to neighborhood kids for free, and is a chance for kids to learn information about bike safety and exercise. Happy Haunted Halloween is an alternative to families walking through their neighborhoods and getting candy on the big night. Instead, participants gather in a communal area familiar to Near East Side residents (this year's location TBA) and enjoy themed activities, including bobbing for apples, face painting, and, of course, trick-or-treating.

Due to the popularity and location of the event, parking is limited. Attendees are encouraged to ride their bikes (Pedal & Park will be on hand to store and watch over bikes; donations accepted) or take IndyGo's Route 21 to get to Spades Park. For more information about the event or to volunteer, visit NESCO's website, tweet, or call (317) 296-5444.

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