Annual Heritage Festival triggers nostalgia


A local Blacksmith contributes to the ‘olden days’ aesthetic of the festival whilst preforming his craft.

Ross Parks

Member of Native American dance troop preforms on stage, exhibiting his own heritage
For years, man has searched for a way to alter the fabric of time and yet, the collective attempts by humanity have all fallen short, and we remain in the present. However, for those living in and around Columbia, a unique opportunity is opened every year, to travel in a time machine constructed within the historic yards of Nifong Park. 
Here, the efforts of men and women from all walks of life assemble an example of the most practical time machine, set to the 1800’s world of Missouri.
In lieu of cogs and switches, men orate stories above the flames of open campfires under the night’s stars, and instead of complex equations written upon a board and a dial set to a date, vendors call out their goods from within their pitched tents, filled with items common to the past.
The Heritage Festival, an annual event held in Nifong Park, is a celebratory recollection of the unique history of Missouri. Having been a part of the lives of Columbians for now 36 years, it has become a part of many’s yearly rituals.
“Some of my kid’s best memories are from the Heritage Festival,” De
nise Rohrer said, a former craftswomen and loyal attendee to the annual celebration.
This year, of the nearly 15,000 estimated visitors, many new faces are sure to be in the crowd. However, a large portion of anticipated guests, like the Rohrers, are expected to have attended in the past.
“It was one of the first things we did here as a family and everyone loved it, so we have always come back every year“ Bissy Crosby said, another loyal attendee of many years. Having just moved to Columbia in 2001, the families first experiences with the festival were those just after 9/11.
“It was just really patriotic… really special,” Crosby said.
For many, the festival offers a place for the family to be at ease. With the strumming of guitars and banjos in the background as children attempt to stand on stilts or milk a fake cow, everyone can observe and enjoy the days activities.
“I like the Heritage Festival because its somewhere anyone can go, even if you’re a family, or a group of friends or just one person. All ages can go and have a fantastic time,” Alicia Hoagenson said, a RBHS senior and attendee. “I really enjoy all the shops … its just a great thing to do as friends, and make memories.”
However, this type of atmosphere doesn’t happen overnight.
Karen Chandler, coordinator of the majority of the Festival for a solid decade says that while she still finds entertainment in the events, she gets the most satisfaction from seeing people enjoying themselves. All of which makes sense, since Chandler spends a large portion of the year planning the event.
“Around the first of the year we really start getting in touch with our performers and traditional artisans,” Chandler said. “It takes nine or ten months to put it all together.”
Still, while it may take a large amount of planning and management to coordinate the event, it is more than a one-step process. In all, the purpose of the Heritage Festival is to remind us of ourselves, and enjoy both the people we are now, and who we were then. Many of those who help out with the festival have a firm grasp on that idea, including Rose Weston, a social studies education major at the University of Missouri and Festival volunteer.
“I really enjoy talking to people about history, especially local history,” Weston said. “I don’t really think most people realize how cool local history is.”
So as the curtain closes on this year’s Heritage Festival, the memories of another celebration are tucked away, as the community returns to normal.