Some places celebrate heritage or national moments or something like that. We celebrate a bridge.
I remember Independence Day celebrations growing up quite vividly. First we would go to another suburb, Hickory Hills, for their parade. Quite a nice parade, that one. I remember a lot of sirens and candy, if nothing else, and to a kid, those are the most important.
Then we’d head to one of the parks in Oak Lawn where the Park District would hold a carnival. Little games, awful plastic prizes. It was fun.
Finally, as the heat of the day would kick in (I’ve never like it hot, even then when I lived somewhere hot), we’d hide away until evening, when the skydivers overhead would signal it was time to head to the fireworks at the high school a few blocks away.
It was tradition. Simple, and yet amazing in the way it would bring so many communities together.
In the Copper Country, Independence Day is given to the smaller communities, like Copper Harbor (whose fireworks are amazing, by the way), Lake Linden, and South Range. For Houghton and Hancock, the twin major towns, we have Bridgefest instead. Every Fathers Day weekend, Bridgefest always makes me a bit sad.
Bridgefest has booths of people selling stuff. And a car show. And some water-skiers a few people notice. And then there’s the live music and alcohol. I don’t do much with either.
I’m really not trying to be negative about this. Everyone tries. But this isn’t a community that comes together in that direction. We tend to go outwards. To go and do our own things. Getting together to do these sorts of things, especially without the college community around, feels a bit artificial. Like something a chamber of commerce would do to help local businesses sell stuff.
This is, for us, is the start of tourist season. From now through the end of September, town gets busy, with RVs and poor driving and full restaurants and lots of sunburnt people. We do our best to stay patient.
But, a festival that kind of signals the start of that season is a bit off for us. We find much of our celebration in the fall and in the snow and in the quieter bits of summer. Each of us kind of has our own festival for the Keweenaw. No, it’s not the same as those community gatherings from growing up in a suburb. We’re a bit more disparate up here. And that’s okay.
Words and photos by Kevin Hodur. Previously calling suburban Chicago and Portland home, Kevin now lives and works as a writer on Upper Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. Catch more editions of The Road Rarely Traveled with next month’s The Longest Days and Endless Nights.