By: Meryl Paine and Gia Mazur
An annual autumn event will light up the dark with a towering flame to celebrate Scranton’s history, culture and more.
On Saturday, Oct. 21, from 6 to 10 p.m., the seventh annual Bonfire at the Iron Furnaces festival will feature food, live music and activities as it raises money for Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum, which oversees the Scranton Iron Furnaces, 159 Cedar Ave. Leading up to and during the annual bonfire lighting at 8:15 p.m., the Double “R” Twirlettes and Scranton Black Diamond Pipe Band will present a fire-twirling show.
“It’s a wonderful event, and through the years I’ve noticed such a growth,” said Kathleen Mercatelli, Twirlettes director. “It’s a really different event since we don’t get many opportunities to twirl fire.”
The Gaelic festival Samhain, which marked the end of the harvest season and beginning of winter, inspired the event’s creation. But in addition to honoring the area’s industrial heritage, the bonfire over the years “has grown into an all-encompassing cultural event,” committee chairman Brian Murphy said. It incorporated elements of traditional autumn and harvest festivals, such as Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, and the Indian festival Diwali, which people celebrate in part by launching fire lanterns.
“We always want to reflect those different cultures and how those different cultures engage and celebrate that,” said Bode Morin, museum and iron furnaces site administrator. “As the program evolves, we want to have a bigger reach and look more at who we are as a community, be more inclusive and celebrate our community as well.”
Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door and free for children 12 and younger. Organizers encourage guests to buy their passes early at scrantonbonfire.com; the museum in McDade Park, 1 Bald Mountain Road, Scranton; and Electric City Trolley Museum, 300 Cliff St., Scranton.
Admission includes $5 in Bonfire Bucks, which guests can use for food, beverages and activities. And they will have plenty to choose from. Guests can celebrate the season with fall and regional favorite drinks, such as spiced cider, hot chocolate, beer and wine, and then chow down on food from Coney Island of Scranton, Terra Preta, Sweet Lush Cupcakery and more.
The festival also will feature performances across two stages by Irish Balladeers, cover band Light Weight and Creative and Performing Arts Academy of NEPA as well as fire hoopers and spinners. Guests can check out balloon artists, a jack-o’-lantern carving competition, tarot card readings, an arts and crafts tent, a bonfire sculpture by Brian Murray of Reclamation Industrial Furnishings and a large-scale art installation that highlights the standing stone blast furnaces.
Each year, the festival explores a different culture in its educational component, Morin said, and this time visitors can head to the cultural tent to learn more about the Irish and Welsh immigrants and the culture they brought to Northeast Pennsylvania.
In seven years, the bonfire has turned into a place where arts, culture, heritage and history meet, and Morin believes it will continue to grow with the community’s support.
“We’re really looking forward to (the festival),” he said. “To get to do this festival for the last seven years straight and always have such a great response from the community … it’s just a great, fun night.”