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Lockport fest blends art, heritage Celebration centers on Erie Canal history

LOCKPORT -- An effort to merge Lockport's past and present is the force behind this weekend's inaugural Erie Canal Heritage Festival.

The event, sponsored by the Lockport Business Association, runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in Packet Park on Market Street.

The festival grew out of Artique-Gras, held in the park for the past two summers, with the goal of showing a diverse range of food, art and music.

"You had a taste of all of the different cultures that made Lockport, but once we got into it, we realized that to do that and to tie it into historic Lockport, you really needed to focus on the canal because that's what built the community," said festival organizer Kathy O'Keefe, owner of Noah's Ark toy store.

"What we really want to focus on is telling the stories, so you get something like Williamsburg or Gettysburg," O'Keefe said. "That's what we want this event to build into."

And it seems that no other Erie Canal town has a history-based festival.

"With all the money going into Erie County's Erie Canal Harbor development, we didn't want the focus to shift from what Lockport has to offer," O'Keefe said. "It's not like Canal Fest in North Tonawanda. If we're going to do something on the canal, it needs to be based on our history."

One unique feature of the festival will be the inscription and mounting of a piece of Thorold, Ont.'s, "Kissing Rock" on top of a boulder quarried from the LaFarge site in Lockport.

The boulder is set up in Carveth Park on the other side of Exchange Street from Packet Park.

O'Keefe said the idea of chiseling off a piece of the Kissing Rock was to show that Lockport and Thorold, which is located on the Welland Canal, are "kissing cousins."

The rock has been on the Thorold waterfront for generations and reputedly was the scene of goodbye kisses from a local Casanova, Charles Snelgrove, to his latest girlfriend before he went aboard a canal ship for his job as a crewman.

"We have a gentleman coming from Thorold, who originally inscribed their rock. He's now in his 90s, and he's going to be coming here to inscribe our rock," O'Keefe said. "Maybe next year for the Erie Canal Heritage Festival, we'll have a kissing contest right at the rock to see how long couples can kiss."

The arts will be remembered, too. Sally Bisher, director of the Market Street Art Center across the street from the park, will host a kickoff gallery opening from 5 to 8 p.m. today.

"The title of the show is 'The Locks Then and Now,' " Bisher said. Thirteen regional artists will exhibit paintings of the canal locks.

That free show will continue throughout the weekend. Also, painters, other folk artists and two antique dealers will work in the park during the weekend.

Albion actress Gretchen Murray Sepik, a specialist in canal-related historical characters, will present her one-woman show as "Surly Sal," a fictitious canal boat cook, on a barge anchored in the canal off the park at 12:15 p.m. Saturday.

At 12:15 p.m. Sunday, Sepik will be on the barge stage again, portraying 19th century women's suffrage activist Susan B. Anthony, who is known to have given a speech in Lockport in 1860.

The Niagara County Historical Society's cast of locals who dress up in 19th century costumes as historical Lockport figures also will circulate through the park talking to visitors.

Using a horse-drawn hearse provided by Prudden & Kandt Funeral Home, a funeral procession for Abraham Lincoln will roll down Market Street, starting at Goehle-Widewaters Marina and heading south, at 11 a.m. Sunday.

This event will involve a bit of historical license. After Lincoln's assassination in 1865, his funeral train did stop in Lockport on its way from Washington to Springfield, Ill., where Lincoln was buried, but his coffin was not removed from the train.

To commemorate the Second Great Awakening, a religious upwelling of the 1800s, members of Ridge Road Baptist Church will present their version of a vintage spiritual revival from 11 a.m. to noon Saturday.

The festival has food covered, with various vendors and two barbecues.

Other entertainment will include Irish dancers from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Saturday; the Lockside Celtic Trio from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday; and vocalist Tony DeCorsi from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

The art show prizes will be presented at 11:45 a.m. Saturday.

The winners of a coloring contest held in Lockport schools will be announced between 1:30 and 2 p.m. Sunday. O'Keefe said the children were asked to color a drawing of a young canal worker, called a "hoagy," leading a mule that towed canal barges in the early days of the waterway.

A play area called "Hoagy's Hobbies" will be set up by the city Youth and Recreation Department and the YMCA Teen Leaders. The groups will show games that canal children played 175 years ago. "We'll have Fowler's toffee and caramel candy and candied apples there, too," O'Keefe said.

Mayor Michael W. Tucker said he thinks the festival has the potential to grow into a major attraction.

"Over time, these things get better and better, and I think this is going to be a great thing for us this weekend," Tucker said. "The weather's going to be nice. We expect a nice crowd down here. We're excited about it."


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