If you grew up in the midwest in the 70s and 80s, you probably sang the Johnny Appleseed song at summer camp at some point. “Oh the Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord… for giving me the things I need, the sun and the rain and the appleseed…” If you read Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire, you may have been surprised to learn that the REAL Johnny Appleseed, a fellow by the name of John Chapman, actually sowed apple seeds on “the new frontier” (basically anything west of Pennsylvania) in the early 1800s.
At the time, apples were a sure source of hard cider, a beverage more reliable for the settlers than water. He eventually wandered ever westward, between Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. His final resting place however, is on a little hill in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
The annual Fort Wayne Johnny Appleseed Festival celebrates this cherished local history.
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Fort Wayne Johnny Appleseed Festival
Fort Wayne showcases this storied character with the annual Johnny Appleseed Festival. The 2-day “period authentic” festival sprawls across the Johnny Appleseed Park, just south of the Coliseum. It’s one of Fort Wayne’s biggest draws.
More than 100,000 folks enjoy the authentic recreations, Civil War encampments, craft makers and vendors. Five stages of entertainment assure diversion, from the fiddlers and dancers on the Main Stage, to Medicine Man storytelling at the edge of the wood. There is even a fiery oration from Honest Abe Lincoln. It’s like stepping into the early 19th century!
Jonny Appleseed for Children
We edged down into the forested Children’s area, where various acts entertained. There were face painters, bobbing for apples games and a straw maze. Just to the north is a Civil War encampment. Their cannon booms every hour or so, and in the meantime, period reenactments help illustrate daily life in the 1860s. An infantryman casting bullets over an open fire, a weaving woman spinning her wool into yarn and then carding it off the wheel.
Walking past a half dozen men working their magic making open fire kettle corn, we were captivated by the song of the fire, the popping kernels, the bangs against the pots.
A little further, apples baked in a dumpling crust with a swirl of cinnamon and whipped cream topping enticed our taste buds. To wash it all down and quench your thirst, was some of Little John’s Sarsaparilla (or root beer, or lemonade, if you prefer!)
Trappers and Traders
The most fascinating part of the festival grounds lies just west of the main areas. The spot is called “Trappers and Traders.” You cross a small footbridge and through a forested hedge to be transported to the frontier days. This is when Indiana was the wild unknown westward edge of the US.
Canvas tents and deerskin teepees house all manner of creativity. From candle dippers, with vats of liquid wax, to a flint and glass blade maker, to Native American spirit totems – these are a truly unique expression of the world before homogenized strip malls.
Johnny Appleseed Festival Details
- Held annually on the 2nd Saturday and Sunday of September.
- 10am to 6pm Saturday
- 10am to 5pm Sunday
- Free general admission
There are vendors and activities to spend some dollars on, so be sure to bring some cash!