- Holidays and Celebrations
Neewollah is Halloween spelled backwards
Annual Neewollah celebration
Every year during the Halloween season, the city of Independence, Kansas holds their Neewollah festival, which runs for 10 days. As is obvious, Neewollah is Halloween spelled backyards but, there is nothing backwards about this celebration. It is professionally presented, expertly run and is staffed completely by volunteers. There are many aspects to Neewollah, from plays to parades, frolic and festivities, all day / all night activities and delicious eating. The main street is closed for the entire 10 days while concession stands rule the road, circus rides thrill child and adult alike, street theatre abounds and the main stage offers ongoing entertainment.
Each year, Neewollah has a different theme. This last year, the emphasis was on “Lil Abner,” and the Dogpatch characters. Annually, the main theme is expressed as a play on stage, for 3 nights with local personalities as players. Lil Abner, in all it’s glory and humor, was enacted beautifully; songsters singing as though on Broadway, actors portraying Daisy Mae, Mammy Yokum, Lil Abner, himself, and others with a proficiency one would expect to see on any “big time” stage in America.
There are parades; lots of them. The kids’ parade on Sat. morning, complete with kids on bikes, throwing candy to the crowd. The “Duddah” parade; an adults only crazy event, also features bike riders, but these are big boys and girls on “hogs,“ “Indians,“ and other vintage motorcycles…and then there is the Main Parade which hosts the Marine Corps Marching Band, the Clydesdale Horses, college and high school marching bands from across the state and numerous other states, local personalities, state and local politicians…you name it; it’s represented. If you’ve never been up and close to a Clydesdale horse, you’ll be amazed and awed at their size and grandeur. Gorgeous creatures.
Some say this is the largest “fair” in Kansas and, even, in the South Eastern states. It does seem true as thousands and thousands descend on the small town of Independence to take part, play, eat and, in general, experience the merriment of Neewollah.
William Inge, a famed playwright, heralds from Independence. He wrote the play, later to become the movie, “Picnic,” which starred Kim Novak and other notables. Kim was “Queen Neelah” in the movie…taken from the annual pageant to crown the Queen during the Neewollah event. Preparing months in advance, preening and grooming themselves, local girls compete to become Queen Neelah. This is a big affair here in the Heartland.
There are other events which are regulars during the 10 day extravaganza. One can learn of the history of Independence while partaking in the Historical Tour which is offered daily at hourly intervals. People gather at an appointed place, climb up on hay bales on a flatbed trailer which is pulled by either truck or horse power. Occasionally, when available, a horse and carriage is the transport. The tour winds around town, showcasing unique, pivotal and historical buildings, residences of notables and sites.
Big time musical entertainment is also offered and, over the years, these have included the Oak Ridge Boys, Alabama, Lynard Skynard, R.E.O. Speedwagon and many more; mostly with a Southern style. The street stage, built high and by locals, is ongoing throughout Neewollah, with magic shows, singers, bands, poets, and more. And it’s free!!
There is always a dance associated with the theme. This year, it was “The Sadie Hawkins Dance.” People of all ages gathered to a live DJ who played GREAT sounds. Dancers were dressed as their favorite Lil Abner characters, and EVERYONE had a fantastic time.
People here in Kansas really know how to have a good time and are not ashamed to do so. Laughter fills the air, smiles are everywhere and friends greet one another with great hugs and arms open wide. It is wonderful!
Neewollah actually began 70 years ago (with a hiatus during WWII) in response to growing shenanigans during the usual Halloween season. Parents and adults felt concerned and so, created the celebration so that kids could have a good, safe time. From then to now, it has grown in popularity, attendance and lore, drawing in multiple thousands of visitors from all areas of the U.S.
The favorite local watering hole, Uncle Jack’s, is SRO during Neewollah. Familiar faces are seen everywhere and, I found myself thinking, this must be what it was like to be a part of the “Cheers” crowd. “Everyone knows your name…and they’re glad you came….” yeah, it’s like that here is wonderful, warm Kansas.
For those interested, you can Google “Neewollah” and visit the many web sites. I suggest the official Neewollah site as it is the most detailed, complete with pictures and an historical oversight.
The planning is already underway for this year’s celebration. Key players have been named and competition has begun for the next theme symbol. The excitement is already in the air.