Ignite Your Spirit!
Bonfire at Iron Furnaces in Scranton this weekend celebrates the season
“One can enjoy a wood fire worthily only when he warms his thoughts by it as well as his hands and feet.”
— Odell Shepard
Warm your thoughts and bones by the communal fire this weekend and celebrate northeastern Pennsylvania’s deep history and rich cultural diversity in a setting like no other. The Scranton Iron Furnaces, 159 Cedar Ave., Scranton, will present Bonfire at the Iron Furnaces on Saturday, October 20 from 8 to 11 p.m.
This second annual event features visual arts group The Pop-Up Studio, a performance from The Tom Petty Appreciation Band, a Jack O’Lantern Carving Competition, fire artist Chris Mina and food and drink. There will also be live traditional storytelling by Scranton StorySlam around a fire bowl lent to the event by nationally recognized local artist, Elena Colombo and poet and Jack McGuigan will return to the main stage for Celtic Readings. Local wood artist Ethan Ames will also be setting one of his wood sculptures ablaze in the October night.
“We saw how last year’s Bonfire and The Arts on Fire Festival inspired the community to re-envision the space,” Maureen McGuigan, Deputy Director of the Lackawanna County Department of Arts and Culture. “It’s a very historic and unique space that hadn’t been utilized in so many years. I started thinking about people loving fire; it’s such a communal thing. My goal is to make this a truly community wide even for people of all ages and demographics coming together to celebrate their heritage .”
Halloween has its roots in the ancient Druid festival of “Samhain” or summer’s end. Many other Halloween traditions developed from Celtic traditions and the event celebrates the Irish, Scotch and Welsh miners who lived near the furnaces. The event has expanded to include the Hispanic traditional Day of the Dead activities. There will be an ofrenda altar where the community is encouraged to bring photographs of loved ones who have passed on, or adorn special Day of the Dead face painting.
“We’ve added paying homage to the Hispanic immigrants with the Day of the Dead activities,” McGuigan said. “We don’t want the event to lose its Celtic feel; it just so happens that the Scranton Reads Committee is reading “Bless Me Ultima” (a novel which reflects Chicano culture of 1940s rural New Mexico). We can celebrate what they are doing and it’s a great way for the two organizations to benefit.”
Combining Celtic and Hispanic cultures is an idea that meshes better than one might initially think. “During The Day of the Dead festivities, people bring pictures of past loved ones because they believe that a time when spirits can inner pass and come back, and so do the Irish. They believe that it was a time of year when the world became a thin place. A time when spirits in the other world and this world can interact. I think a lot of cultures have similarities that we don’t necessarily know.”
StorySlam’s Pamela Hill McNichols has been working with local playwright Kait Burrier who has written three, fire-infused plays. “We wanted to have a supernatural flavor to them,” Hill said. “We wanted to incorporate different cultures into our stories. Kait also wanted to work in the local history, including the life of a miner and All Souls Day. The stories will be performed and will be an interactive performance utilizing the space at the Iron Furnaces. We will be opening up the storytelling to the audience. We’re hoping some festival-goers will share their bone-chilling tales around the campfire or maybe just great stories of days gone by. Also, musicians are welcome to bring their guitars or ukuleles and sing a folk song or two, hopefully one to which everyone knows the words.”
The Scranton Iron Furnaces is a four-acre historic site operated by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in partnership with the Anthracite Heritage Museum and Iron Furnaces Associates. Four massive stone stacks are the remains of the blast furnaces of the Lackawanna Iron and Coal Company, built between 1848 and 1857. The furnaces ranked as the second-largest iron producer in the U.S. by the 1880’s. The site is on the National Register of Historic Places.
“I want people to experience the great sense of place here in northeastern Pennsylvania and the Iron Furnaces are such an emblem of our heritage,” McGuigan said. “To re-experience it in a new way. It’s obviously not a working furnace anymore, but it’s there and it’s a powerful symbol and also a living structure. I want people to commune with each other. I love technology, but I think what can be more communal and personal, and what’s better than standing around a fire with your friends, neighbors and strangers too? It really brings people together. I want people to have a sense of community and an appreciation for place. I think having some culture, with some art sprinkled in to awaken peoples’ imagination, is really fun and enjoyable.”
— tom graham
The Bonfire at the Iron Furnaces kicks off with the lighting of the Bonfire at 8 p.m., and is a rain or shine event. Advanced tickets are $20 at the door and $15 in advance and can be purchased by calling the Anthracite Heritage Museum at 963-4804 or visiting www.anthracitemuseum.org. Children under 12 are admitted free but donations will be accepted. The Pop Up Studio Parade will leave Courthouse Square in Downtown Scranton at 7:30 p.m. sharp on its way to ceremonially light the bonfire.
The Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is a mixture of Spanish Catholic and native Aztec traditions and beliefs. The Aztec culture believed life on earth to be dreamlike with death being was a necessary step toward a higher level of conscience. They also believed skulls were a positive symbol, not only of mortality and death, but also of rebirth.
Dia de los Muertos celebrates the deceased and honors their memories. The spirits of the deceased are thought to pay a visit to their families at this time and the families prepare an altar for their return. An altar is set up with the appropriate ofrendas (offerings) for Dia de los Muertos. The offerings placed on the altar for Dia de los Muertos usually consist of a wash bowl, basin, razors, soap and other items the traveling spirit can use to clean-up after the journey. Pictures of the deceased are also placed on the altar as well as personal belongings for each person and any other offerings the deceased (pack of cigarettes, bottle of tequila).
The wearing of traditional skull masks and the tradition of painting faces to look like a skull has also become part of the tradition. The skulls are used not only as the basis for painting faces, but also are the shape of candy such as sugar skulls and for many skeleton-inspired decorations.
Flowers are also symbolically important part of day of the dead with many face-painting designs of skulls incorporating floral aspects. The flower most associated with Dia de los Muertos in Mexico is the marigold, which is known as the flower of the dead. In Aztec belief, the marigold was sacred to Mictlantecuhtli, the god of the dead. The souls of departed family and friends return to earth on the day of the dead, and it is believed the strong scent of marigold helps to guide them back home to their loved ones.
The meaning of el Dia de los Muertos face-painting is not only to remember the dead, but also to overcome the fear of death and celebrate the joys of life.
— tom graham