In celebration of America: Abraham Lincoln Freedom Festival July 4th in Rockport

by Kathy Tretter

The first stanza of Three Dog Night’s classic 1970 hit — “Celebrate! Celebrate! Dance to the music!” — sums up what to expect this Saturday, July 4 at the Rockport Freedom Festival in Rockport City Park.

While it feels as if summer of 2020 has been canceled thanks to the novel coronavirus COVID-19, the City of Rockport is going all out to make sure everyone enjoys a stellar Independence Day by proceeding with the Annual Freedom Festival. Note: There is plenty of space in the Park to socially distance while enjoying the amenities.

Expect all the activities the Freedom Fest has long been known for, including a Kiwanis-sponsored Car Show, a rummage sale at the Community Building, tours of the Abraham Lincoln Pioneer Village, a selection of food and beverages (including homemade ice cream and Cloutas famous salt water taffy), plus live music by Beginners Luck from 6-9 p.m. Central, capped off by a fireworks extravaganza at dusk.

The Kiwanis Car Show generally attracts a wide array of both antique and classic vehicles, and with so many other car shows canceled it should be even larger this year (it’s always been big). Entries can begin coming in (for those who would like to participate) starting as early as 6 a.m. Central. Judging will take place at 12 p.m. and the car show will conclude at 2 p.m. CDT, but there will be plenty of other activities to fill the day.

For those who have never been to the Pioneer Village, it offers a slice of early-1800s Americana that is well worth the visit even if no festival is going on.

Comprised of Lincoln-era cabins, some of which are originals owned by Thomas Lincoln’s friends and neighbors, the village also contains a fascinating museum of antiquities that will entertain and enlighten (in other words an educational experience that truly just feels like fun). Walk through cabins depicting life 200 years ago as Lincoln would have lived it, then visit the museum with displays of military artifacts, clothing, utensils, spinning wheels and a rare rocker beater loom still in use today. The museum even contains a hutch handmade by Abraham Lincoln with the help of his father, Thomas. 

For those who may not know, the Pioneer Village was the setting chosen by Hollywood for the 1955 Burt Lancaster film (who both starred and directed) The Kentuckian, also starring Diana Lynn and Dianne Foster, with Walter Matthau in his very first big screen appearance. Many area residents joined the cast as extras for this large-scale Western.

Lancaster, who was Hollywood royalty by that point, started his career as a circus acrobat and had performed in the park during the Spencer County Fair (which just happens to be Indiana’s longest continuously running fair. The Ag Society held the first Spencer County Fair the week of Nov. 17, 1853). When Lancaster was tapped to star in and direct the movie and locations were being chosen, he remembered the Pioneer Village and suggested it as the perfect film set.

The Pioneer Village — a tribute to President Abraham Lincoln near his childhood home in a city he knew well — was built in 1934 and 1935 in City Park by the Works Progress Administration. It will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. CDT on July 4.

So celebrate, celebrate, with the car show, village visit and food, then from 6-9 p.m. dance to the music provided by Beginner’s Luck, followed by a stellar Fireworks display.

It’s a 4th of July celebration for the ages!

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