HOPE — Expectations were exceptionally high during this year’s milestone edition of the Hope Heritage Days. And so were the temperatures.
While many who attended the festival’s 50th anniversary celebration said the heat was preferable to rain or cold, attendance numbers were not what had been hoped for during the three-day festival.
“We had assumed the crowds would be enormous this year,” Barb Johnson of the Yellow Trail Museum said Saturday afternoon while shaking her head. “I think it was the heat.”
As the festival began, all the signs of a record-breaking crowd were there. When the event’s top organizer arrived late Friday afternoon, Heritage of Hope Inc. CEO Michael Dean had to park blocks away, near the intersection of Cross and Bradley streets, Dean said.
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“I can usually find a place to park in the square, but this year, I had to take a good long walk,” he said.
The moment the sun began to set shortly after 7:30 p.m. Friday, “everybody else started to flood in,” Dean said.
Although organizers expected and received a huge turnout for the separate rock and country concerts Friday, Dean said he was pleasantly surprised to see the parking lot outside Hauser Jr.-Sr. High School nearly full for the WYGS Gospel Sing.
Saturday morning, attendance was good when the Hauser Jets won the top event over three other small high schools during the 9 a.m. Heritage Classic Cross Country Meet. At 10 a.m., a larger-than-anticipated crowd witnessed Bill Seeger win over nine other competitors during the Tom Thayer Memorial Horseshoe Pitching Tournament, Heritage of Hope president Randy Sims said.
It appears vendors also had high expectations. Their tents on the east side of the square were six rows thick in some areas, and extended into both the square near the playground and along Harrison Street, south of Washington St.
“We were full and overloaded, but still had a waiting list (for vendor space)” Dean said. “I was getting calls all day Saturday morning.”
But shortly after 11 a.m. Saturday, when temperatures began to climb into the 90s, the volunteers in 19th century outfits in the Pioneer Village first began to feel some discomfort.
“I could just feel the sweat dripping off my back,” volunteer Susan Thayer Fye said after assisting with the children’s games, demonstrations, and old-fashioned musical instrument displays at the village.
Concern rose a notch after one minor heat-related illness occurred early Saturday afternoon, Hope police said. However, members of the Hope Volunteer Fire Department were prepared with cots laid out in shaded areas or cooler buildings, Dean said.
At mid-afternoon, Johnson estimated the heat has cut the crowds at the Pioneer Village crowd down to half the expected size. That was followed by an announcement that the fireworks display scheduled for later that night had been canceled.
The decision was made after festival organizers examined a soybean field where the fireworks are set off. The field was so dry and brittle that nobody wanted to take any chances that a fire could start, Dean said.
But within the museum, quite a few guests seeking the comfort of air-conditioning were enjoying the costumed volunteers, as well as the exhibits.
After looking at photographs of the festival’s initial days, the museum had put out a special effort to persuade both visitors and volunteers to dress in period outfits, Johnson said.
While some either made or purchased their outfits, demand for costumes prompted several last minute calls to the museum, Johnson said.
“The ones that look like they were just thrown and don’t quite match?” Johnson said. “They probably came from me.”
By 5:30 p.m. Saturday, the heat and the humidity started to subside, which prompted several people to arrive and reserve spots for the evening concerts, according to Hope business owner Jackie Robb Tallent.
By the time “Sounds of Summer” began their Beach Boys tribute at 8 p.m., the entire area surrounding the Jackson Street main stage was almost shoulder-to-shoulder people, Tallent said.
Although the temperature was 90 degrees by the time Heritage of Hope made their special presentations at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, a steady breeze and tolerable humidity helped to keep the crowd levels up from what it was just a day earlier.
Overall, several vendors said the huge nighttime crowds largely help offset the lower afternoon numbers, Dean said.
The 2:30 p.m. Heritage Days parade Sunday was kicked off by a flyover of a restored B-17 Flying Fortress, as well as two smaller World War II-era fighter planes. The aircraft was obtained through the Fishers-based Liberty Foundation.
While heat wasn’t an issue on Sunday, a woman was hit in the shoulder a half-hour into the parade by a piece of building facade that fell on the west side of Main Street, Hope Town Marshall Matt Tallent said. He described her injuries as very minor.
Efforts to persuade organizations to come up with innovative floats began in February, Dean said. One crowd favorite was a tropical float with feline characters dressed for the beach in “Just Another Day in ‘Purr’idise,” sponsored by Litter Box Kitty Rescue. Another was a giant Soapbox Derby car that was created by Cub Scout Pack 543 in Hope.
But some of the biggest cheers were given up Sunday to a marching band largely made up of alumni from Hauser High School. Luckily for the performers who hadn’t picked up their instrument in years, a few current Hauser music students were mixed in to assist.
John and Shirley Robertson were honored just prior to Sunday’s Hope Heritage Parade as grand marshals. Hauser athletic coaches Jerry Schoen and Bob Nobbe also received accolades for their contributions to the community’s youth during a 1:30 p.m. special presentation.
A loud cheer went up in the crowd when a $1,000 check from Heritage of Hope to the Simmons One-Room Schoolhouse was presented in memory of Glen Keller.
After serving as principal of Hauser High School from 1965-1985 – and then superintendent of the Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp. from 1985-1995 – the retired Keller died Sept. 1 at the age of 84.