A festive step back into the Renaissance: An estimated 4,000 people enjoy jousting, aerialists and more at airpark

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Spectators watch armored combat during the Eclipsing the Renaissance eclipse viewing event at the Columbus Airport Airpark in Columbus, Ind., Monday, April 8, 2024.

Forget the passing action in the sky.

The most full-throated cheers came 90 minutes before the total solar eclipse Monday afternoon with knights on speedy steeds passing in opposite directions at the Eclipsing the Renaissance festival at the Columbus Airpark.

Organizers estimated about 4,000 people, including Columbus Mayor Mary Ferdon, stepped back in time some 500 years to see spirited jousting, to gobble turkey legs, hear Celtic tunes, and watch aerialists and fire eaters add their own spark to the event that was eight months in planning.

The full-armored knights, from an Ann Arbor, Michigan, jousting group, struck each other with 10-foot lances that snapped several times almost like toothpicks as the athletic, 1,600-pound Percheron horses thundered past one another.

“The louder you cheer,” said the announcer, “the harder the knights will hit.”

Even that proclamation drew a big roar from a crowd of more than 300 ringing the jousting enclosure.

Knight Zak Stephenson loved onlookers’ enthusiasm.

“Ten out of 10,” he said afterward.

Long before the festival ever opened Monday afternoon, Columbus Municipal Airport Director Brian Payne jousted with crowd size possibilities — especially since estimates from community leaders originally highlighted that as many as 150,000 visitors could come to town over the three-day weekend.

Though mostly empty streets by noon indicated that grand visitation never quite happened amid a workday vacation for many, Payne beamed as he looked over the proceedings less than halfway through.

“I couldn’t be more pleased,” Payne said, passing credit to his organizational team and sponsors. “We have just done nothing but really focus on how can we make this the best event possible. Yeah, so we’re so very happy.”

He acknowledged that, ideally, he personally had hoped to attract a minimum of 5,000 people, but mentioned that perspective is important.

“We have to realize that what we still had,” he said, “was 4,000 very happy people.”

The four-and-a-half-hour festival, in the planning stages for eight months with a cost totally covered by sponsors, unfolded under sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70s. Besides the aforementioned activities, it also included falconing, the wheel of death and plenty more period atmosphere in family-friendly surroundings.

Fire eater Kristina Burroughs with the Cincinnati Circus walked the grounds early in the event somewhat concerned that partially gusting winds could endanger her performance. But she maintained her sense of humor.

“I have five kids at home, so I have to be careful,” said the 10-year performer.

As Burroughs spoke, an aerialist was flipping and spinning artfully on hanging scarves to the applause of about 200 people seated all around the stage. At the other end of the grounds, a bazaar featured vendors selling everything from candles to carvings. The lemon shakeup line stretched 25 people near the food booths.

A woman who went by the name of Storm did what she termed tarot card affirmations for an entire line of people. She had to take a break at one point before she could make it through all the people.

“When they realize that you can just have fun with this and that it’s all positive and it’s a matter of taking what you want from it, they relax,” she said. “And Renaissance crowd people generally are open and have fun with it, and I think that kind of coincides with everything here.”

Columbus resident Tom Herold and his family biked a couple miles from their house to the grounds just at the edge of the Elks Lodge No. 521. He gushed gratitude that city leaders would provide such an event for free for families, and said he was awed by such.

And yes, he also was awed by the eclipse.

“This,” he said, with his cell phone pointed skyward, “was unbelievable.”