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Neewollah is Halloween spelled backwards

Updated on September 2, 2010

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.



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    • Lucky Cats profile image

      Kathy 6 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Hi LABrahsear...this year, the theme is "How Sweet It Is" and Willy Wonka....should be great. by that time, unfortunately, I'll be back in California...leaving this 'neck of the woods.' I've lived here for almost 5 years...4 2/3...but, now...going home. This town, Independence, Kansas..really knows how to have a good time, promote itself in festivities such as Neewollah and the Inge Festival (April of each year honoring guest playwrite) along w/seminars and classes, plays and a 'wrap up' party. Inge is a tribute to William Inge who, among other well known efforts, wrote the play/film "Picnic" with Kim Novak who, if you remember, is crowned "Queen Neelah." There is a Queen competition among young women; usually over 20 compete. The festival goes on for 10 days from the 20th to the end of the month of Oct. it is very well attended. Thank you for the visit and comment.

    • LABrashear profile image

      LABrashear 6 years ago from My Perfect Place, USA

      Hi Lucky Cats-

      I hail from a small town too. We don't do anything like this though. Sounds like fun. Have you heard what the theme is this year yet?

    • Lucky Cats profile image

      Kathy 6 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Hi Leland! I really am happy that you found this piece and helped to complete the picture with historical information, personal impressions, timeframe and more. This is one of my first 'hubs' during a time when I had few followers so, unfortunately, it has gotten lost in the maze of more writing.

      When I first visited Independence in Oct. '06, looking at property (S. Pakorney's on S. 4th, L. Moore's on S. 5th, etc.) Neewollah was just getting underway and I was completely taken by surprise. I should have known that 'something' was going on because I could not find a room for rent anywhere w/in a 15 mile radius as all the available rooms were taken w/Neewollah revelers! We had a great time and, I must admit, the celebration played a role in my decision to move to SE Kansas. Since this particular Neewollah celebration, I volunteered as a "Ticket Queen." What great fun that was and, in fact, I'm now receiving emails from Karen Turner asking if I'll be available (along w/all the other former volunteers) again, this year. Sadly, I'll be back in California by then, if all goes as planned.

      Again, thank you for the comment and reminders and names; some of whom I remember/recall as having heard of....Kathy

    • profile image

      Leland Harrington 6 years ago

      It was in 1958, if memory serves, that Neewallah began its renewal from the hiatus of the wars. With the carnival rides sitting there in the street by the old Foodtown next to the Dairy Queen, the Bell chopper rising and setting on the south parking lot, that I learned how to schmooze nice older women. I would take the ticket sales lady's thermos down to the closet cafe where they would fill it at no charge when I described for whom I was schlepping. Upon return with the coffee she would have me wait by the box door until the 500th ticket was about to come up. Then I would move into line at the front and buy enough tickets (25 cents) to ensure I got the 500th . . .a free $40 ride in the Bell. I repeated the process for my brother, David. What a wonderful experience. Living in Indpendence was the central joy of my remembered life. Here's to you Warren Culp Sr, Enders, Mayfield, Ulm, Caldwell, GGG, Janet Robinson, Stanley, Ted and all the Veiths and so many more. You are always in my memory.