Cowtown promises vintage fun

Volunteer re-enactors hand out red, white and blue balloons on the streets of Cowtown during their Celebrate America event Saturday. (July 3, 2010)
Volunteer re-enactors hand out red, white and blue balloons on the streets of Cowtown during their Celebrate America event Saturday. (July 3, 2010) The Wichita Eagle

As the nation celebrates its birthday this weekend, Old Cowtown Museum is aiming to bring Wichita back to its roots. The Celebrate America event promises to transport visitors to the 1870s. The affair mixes old-time entertainment with modern day fun.

The Old West village will see volunteers dressed in period outfits playing characters from the times. It also will be the backdrop to zany fun and games. Magic shows, sack races, watermelon-seed spitting contests, cow-pie throwing and gypsy dancers are part of the old-fashioned flair. Organizers are calling it “The ultimate Fourth of July party,” all based on the historical perspective of Cowtown.

“You’re going to feel like you’re actually living in the times,” said Angela Cato, marketing director for the city of Wichita’s Arts and Cultural Services Division. Cato said she is looking forward to building on the success of last year’s event, which drew about 800 attendees.

“Last year, this event was reenergized and reinvented,” she said. “Our hope is that even more people come out to experience it.”

Among the slated activities are carnival games that test strength and endurance at Empire Hall, horseshoe tossing at the Devore Farmhouse and Dr. Dillinger’s Medicine Show at the Jailyard. Last year’s popular anvil shoot will be back.

“People just love the anvil shoot, especially the kids, because it’s noisy,” Cato said. Another special event is the Temperance Rally and March. Summoning the spirit of Carry A. Nation, the fictional Rev. Harkness will lead anti-liquor activists to the saloon to demand an end to drinking and carousing.

“There’s definitely going to be conflict in the town,” Cato said. “It will mimic the same sort of political battles that were happening at that time.”

There’s also a new event this year that will allow guests to witness the conjuring up precipitation. The fictional Prof. Malachi McGillicutty will dazzle with a rain-making demonstration. He’ll be pulling out tricks and tools from his bag in hopes of making the skies pour.

Cato said she hopes he’s not successful.

“There’s a reason we scheduled this activity for the end. We don’t want our event rained out,” she joked.

Throughout the event, scenes will unfold just as they did in the 1870s. The sheriff will haul rowdy cowboys off to jail, saloons will fill with dancers, and merchants will sell goods inside their stores.

Visitors are encouraged to interact with the volunteers in period outfits.

“They are walking encyclopedias of 1870s history,” Cato said.

A pie-eating contest at 1 p.m. will feature several Wichita celebrities. Among those chowing down will be B-98 FM’s Brett Harris and Tracy Cassidy, Brooke Martin of KSN, and Emily Deaver, Shane Konicki and Michelle Loss of the Kansas CW Crew.

The first 250 attendees will get a mini American flag. Barbecue, popcorn, shaved ice, hot dogs, lemonade, beer, sarsaparilla and other food will be for sale.

“It’s about history and also about celebrating Wichita,” Cato said. “It’s who we are now and what we were back then as well.”

If You Go:

Celebrate America

What: Old fashioned festival featuring period reenactments, contests and games.

Where: Old Cowtown Museum, 1865 W. Museum Boulevard When: 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturday

How much: Regular admission applies, $7.75 adults (18 to 61); $6.50 seniors (62 and older); $6 youth (12 to 17); $5.50 children (4 to 11); members and kids 4 and younger free. Information: Visit www.oldcowtown.org for details and a full schedule.

More photos at Kansas.com View a photo gallery and a video from last year’s Celebrate America event by visiting this story at Kansas.com/entertainment.

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