Discs flew and drums beat at the 4th on 53rd Independence Day Picnic in Nichols Park. Children tossed bean bags and hula hoops while parents and pets clustered in the shade, celebrating what could have been the event’s 30th anniversary.
“We arbitrarily decided it was our 29th year because of COVID,” said Stephanie Franklin, president of the Nichols Park Advisory Council and event co-founder. She said this is her 29th celebration of the 4th on 53rd event.
Presented by the Chicago Park District and the Nichols Park Advisory Council, the 4th on 53rd festivities commenced almost normally this year after being cancelled altogether in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite organizers calling off the parade for the second consecutive year, the 4th on 53rd still celebrated the holiday with lawn games, performances and food trucks for an all-ages crowd.
From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m, Nichols Park bustled with people bedecked in red, white and blue, participating in outdoor activities. Kids clustered around the event’s nine games, which offered the chance to win prizes like star-shaped sunglasses and bubbles.
Other children steered their bikes toward the South Fountain to have them decorated with streamers, flags and pinwheels. But turnout for bike decoration was low in comparison to previous years when the parade took place, said event organizer David White.
The event has grown over the years from a small parade to include more and more people, Franklin said.
The park had an estimated 1,500 attendees over the four-hour period, White said.
One thing has stayed consistent for the past six years: magician John Measner performed his 30-minute act to scores of wide-eyed onlookers from his mobile stage. The performance features his toy poodle, Pierre, and a signature trick in which Measner appears to make a volunteer from the audience levitate in midair.
“The people are wonderful,” Measner said. “When I can hear them clapping and ahhing and oohing, that’s how I know they love the show.”
Measner, local band Bryant and the Blues Kings, and double-dutch organization Black Girls Jump held multiple performances throughout the festivities to minimize large groups crowding around an area for an activity.
Ayana Haaruun, founder of Black Girls Jump, an organization intended to teach and preserve the art of double-dutch jump rope, came to the event to engage the crowd and to teach attendees how to jump double-dutch.
“Hyde Park is our second home in terms of engagement,” Haaruun said. “It’s always just really, really nice to get involved with the community, to give back through passing jump rope down. It’s amazing for double dutch jump rope as an art form, to be continually recognized by Hyde Park.”
The festivities, usually set up only along the 53rd Street edge of Nichols Park, spread out over the full length of the greenspace for the first time this year. Organizers spaced activities throughout the park to encourage social distancing and to prevent the formation of crowds, White said.
Prior events, like last year’s Halloween pumpkin patch and a New Year’s Eve celebration, gave organizers “experience to function in the time of COVID” and to prepare for the July 4 festivities, White said.
While they didn’t foresee city reopening this year, organizers are already gearing up for a full celebration next year. The parade, projected to return in 2022, will mark the celebration’s 30th anniversary.
White will be passing the torch to other organizers for next year’s celebration, but he feels “excited” to play even a small role in the festivities.
“One thing that I found touching is how many people came up and said, ‘You know, I came here as a kid and now I brought my kids back,’ ” White said.
“That, to me, really says a lot about community. That these events are there, that the kids experience, and even if they’re living in a different state they come back and bring their kids when they visit grandma to do the parade or to do the picnic. That really impresses me.”