The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High


The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High


The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High


Bridging the past

Folklife festivities retrace the daily traditions of settlers and indigenous peoples’ in colonial America
Risa Cidoni
Working at the annual Folklife Festival, an event leader demonstrates the use of a four post box loom. Created in England during the 16th century, the four post box loom allowed weavers in the Northeastern colonies to weave fabric more efficiently than before, playing an essential role in the evolution of settler culture. “Walking around the festival, you could see how people actually lived in the past — what they’d do for fun, how they survived. It was really interesting to see how different it was from now. You could put yourself in the shoes of the people back then,” senior Jojo Shank said.

Each year, the crisp autumn weather breezes by, carrying comforting traditions of the outdoors; Fright Fests, pumpkin patches and hayrides arrive annually, embracing the return of sweater weather. But as the leaves begin to fall, one particular St. Louis event that celebrates the history of our country returns: Faust Park’s Folklife Festival. 

For 35 years, the lively festival has given attendees the opportunity to observe the daily lives of colonial settlers and indigenous peoples from the early 1800s to the early 1900s. The event, organized by general event coordinator Tim Emmons and volunteer coordinator Krista Farrow, represents historical aspects of colonial times by displaying activities and tools relevant to the period. Dressed in traditional period clothing, event participants passionately show off their stations, demonstrating the use of various historical techniques for daily tasks to passersby. The twist, though, is the event’s medley of both Native American and settler culture visuals throughout one festival: a rare combination for historical festivals, and one that requires closer inspection to determine its success. 

On Sept. 23-24, students attended the festival, either volunteering or simply enjoying a fascinating trip back in time. In doing so, various perspectives of colonial America were discovered. 

“I heard the festival was a cool opportunity to see colonial culture mixed with Old America and how it all started up. I thought it’d be cool to check it out,” junior Samir Shaik said.

Junior Samir Shaik examines classic pottery at the native display booth outside the entrance of Faust Park’s Folklife Festival. In the New World, clay was a tool through which Native Americans could express themselves, hand sculpting symbols and designs to portray spiritual or social concepts. ”We got to see how [the pottery] was handmade and we met the people that made it. I was really impressed by the artfulness and craft, and I’m really glad that I got to see it,” Shaik said.
(Risa Cidoni)
The highlight of the event included wandering through the trails of the park and viewing exhibits. Numerous booths highlighting different parts of daily life and their respective tools traced a path around the visitors’ center, each one demonstrating a common activity in colonial culture. A standout exhibit included the interactive weaving exhibit, featuring an event leader demonstrating the use of colonial-style looms with audience volunteer assistance.

“[The exhibits showed] how settlers worked with tools to make soap, to make a split rail fence system with logs and to do laundry without modern equipment. The blacksmith station demonstrated how blacksmiths could make any tool needed. Spinners, weavers and rug hookers demonstrated how household goods would be made for a family,” Emmons said. “The smokehouse on-site showcased how settlers preserved their meat for the winter. The Historic Village had two schoolhouses to show how schoolhouses evolved from one-room schoolhouses to what we have today as well. “

Many stations featured engaging interactive elements too, including demonstrations, games and attendee participation in certain activities. While mimicking the operations of settlers in the past, coordinators would explain the history behind each activity to provide additional context for the audience. Overall, this added element played into the appeal of the event as audience members got a chance to understand the uses of each tool and visualize their past applications, offering context to several unknown pieces of machinery.  

Senior Norah Rutkowski attempts to catch fruit in a can at the children’s games booth. The device, made of a piece of wood attached to two ends of a can on either side, replicated a traditional toy of the 1800s through which colonial children could find enjoyment during their limited free time. “We helped explain old toys to kids; there were grace rings, dart shooting games, feather tossing and more,” Rutkowski said. “It was cool to see how interested people were in old toys and other things from history. They were really passionate about it and it was interesting to watch.” (Maddy Tarter)

“We got to go around and see people making soap, organic honey [and] string using old machines. [As a volunteer], we worked in the games section, where we would introduce people to games that colonial people used to do. We had a lot of fun,” sophomore Ryan Shabani said.

Furthermore, every demonstrator at a station played into their role by wearing traditional colonial settler clothing or Native American clothing, commonly referred to as regalia, transforming everyday park to a historical fairground. 

“The adults managing [the event] were nice and super into the festival, which made it more fun. Seeing them dressed up and interacting with us made the festival feel more real,” senior Jojo Shank said.

The greatest reciprocity from the festival, however, came not from the deliberate arrangements or technical costumes of activity booths, but from the personable opportunities provided to interact with attendees and share an interest in learning about American history.  Student volunteers arriving at the festival to earn service hours left with a connection to strangers over a bonding related to their nation.

“My favorite part of the festival was interacting with people there. At our games table, kids would come over and color with us or stack sticks into a log cabin on the table. It was fun to connect with them through those games,” Shabani said.

The relevancy of a historical festival like Folklife Festival is its emphasis on bringing back old traditions and connecting them to modern lifestyle. While the methods displayed are from centuries ago, the creativity and critical thinking that settlers and indigenous people used with limited resources is an essential tool for the success of humanity as years continue to pass.

“[This event] shows how resourceful people were, how they had to make accommodations based on the seasons and other obstacles,” Emmons said. “It is important to celebrate and show how people lived in the past and how things have changed.

Attending historical festivals allows people to take a step out of contemporary lifestyle issues and into the shoes of colonial-era drawbacks. Retracing the past teaches the struggles of the settlers and Native Americans in order to understand the weight of the privileges modern society holds today. 

“[Learning] about our own history gives us insight into the way things used to be. It shows how far we’ve come as an American society, but also lets us see how interesting life was back before we had all these things that we have now,” Shabani said. 

The unique element of this festival is the fusion of settlers and indigenous peoples’ daily lives. With various displays pertaining to both cultures, from colonial wagons to traditional indigenous pottery to hunting materials, attendees saw both sides of American history through one walk. 

“[Blending cultures] brings us together as a community,” Shabani said. “If the festival just weighed one or the other — for example, if it was just for Native Americans — then people that cannot relate may not show up. But when they combine, it brings together the community; you meet new people and everyone is more celebrated.”

Moreso, the combination of Native American and settler culture in one place allowed viewers to witness many methods to accomplish the same task. The possibility of comparison from an outside, modern-day perspective facilitates a clearer consensus of what parts of history to replicate and what not to. 

“[Combining cultures] gives you more information about people and how they respond to situations. For example, the natives would put a fish in the ground before they planted their seeds, while Pilgrims would just put the seeds in the ground. It’s interesting to see how the natives have been there longer and know more tricks. It shows that different groups of people are better at different things,” Shank said. “When we look back on that, we can take the best parts from each and grow it into our own culture.”

“We are preserving our past for your children’s future.”

— Event coordinator Tim Emmons

In light of recent discussions surrounding the holiday initially referred to as ‘Columbus Day’ and its moral significance in the history of colonizing culture, many states are divided between the choice of representation of indigenous culture or colonial culture on this particular day. However, it is events like the Folklife Festival that can introduce a new perspective; despite the tragedies of the past or your stance on the events of colonization, both cultures offer something we, today, can learn from. Both colonizers and indigenous peoples have impacted our society today, whether for worse or for better, and that is an acknowledgement worth providing.  

“Both cultures existed at the same time,” Shaik said. “Those are both foundational aspects of our country’s society, so we need to be able to celebrate both together.”

Still, there continues to be further accommodations needed to prioritize a diverse portrayal of history in our country. While the discussions around Columbus Day and the inclusion of native culture in traditional American historical festivals convey a step in the right direction, several sides of history have been misrepresented for years in the past, and that insensitivity takes time and effort to undo. It is through attendance of learning opportunities such as the Folklife Festival that modern society can begin the work to get to an all-inclusive environment.

“We need to be more diverse in everyday life,” Shank said. “Especially in historical places where you go in to learn about people of the past, there needs to be more inclusivity. It simply gives you more information about people and how they respond to situations. Preserving all sides of history gives a broader, better picture — the full picture — which keeps us moving forward.” 

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Risa Cidoni
Risa Cidoni, Features Editor
Pronouns: she/her Grade: 11 Years on staff: 3 What is your favorite piece of literature? "Where the Crawdads Sing." Who is your hero? My grandma. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? Green grapes.
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