Due to concerns over the COVID-19 disease, the Fourth of July in Highland Park looked different this year.
The cancelation of Independence Day activities, like the traditional parade down St. Johns Avenue and the fourth fest family event, meant a day without carnival rides, live entertainment, pie-eating contests or fireworks.
Instead, this year’s celebration included an all-day social media event on July 4, and the first citywide virtual celebration of American independence and local community.
After the village’s sesquicentennial celebration of 2019, the virtual festivities this year were collaborative and interactive and included a social distancing parade posted to Facebook and Twitter, historic photos of parades gone by, a kids and pet parade, a national anthem sing-along, the Firecracker 5K run and a local trivia contest held by the Highland Historical Society.
Mayor Nancy Rotering said during a phone interview that the city’s creative team did a wonderful job using virtual technologies to inspire new modes of celebration during a time when precautions were a necessary response to the public health crisis.
“This year’s virtual extravaganza was one that still conveyed a sense of community, and one will certainly be in our rearview mirror when we come together in the future,” Rotering said. “It was wonderful to see people reminisce and celebrate with new friends and neighbors remotely.”
Ginny Glasner, president and CEO of the Highland Park Chamber of Commerce, said during a phone interview that the village’s Fourth of July celebration has always kicked off with the children’s bike and pet parade, and this year was the first time that was done virtually.
“Seeing the excitement of children, their bikes decorated with colorful streamers, crepe paper and confetti, gave us a unique opportunity to translate that feeling of community spirit into something virtual,” Glasner said.
Local residents, businesses and community partners all came together organizers said. Community organization participants include the Park District, historical society, chamber of commerce, the Bitter Jester Music Festival, American Legion Auxiliary Post #145, Freedom Home Care and Medical Staffing, the League of Women Voters and others.
The program on July 4 started early with a video of Rotering leading the Pledge of Allegiance, a rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” by 10-year-old Clara Rose Gillis, and also included online events that extended throughout the weekend – like the 5K-Run and the local history trivia contest.
“We had close to 100 participants in our 5K run/walk race event,” Park District spokeswoman Liz Gogola said in an email.
“Our Parks Foundation wanted to organize something that would be fun for families and that would provide the flexibility to participate in a safe non-stressful way,” Gogola said.
The Independence Day Zoom Trivia Contest was curated and designed by archivist Nancy Webster, of the Highland Park Historical Society.
The trivia contest as launched as a group via the Zoom video sharing application Saturday morning, offering any contestant who could answer all trivia questions correctly a historic print of their choice from the historical society’s image collection.
“We wanted to create a fun way to carry out our mission to expose people to our collections and resources. A quiz made it a little bit more accessible to everyone,” Webster said.
“We have been developing our digital archives for years in preparation for this moment, so we were ready to jump in to share how communities like ours have celebrated the Fourth of July in the past,” Webster said.
Gina Grillo is a freelancer.