When I think of July, I think of long, sultry days, and flags, parades, and fireworks as we celebrate our nation’s independence. Some among us may also know July as National Blueberry Month, National Hotdog Month, National Baked Bean Month, and National Pickle Month. But how many recognize her as a time to commemorate and celebrate Jane Austen? Two thousand and sixty-four, to be exact, if we take our tally from the number of visitors who descended on Louisville recently. July 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th were reserved this year for the annual Jane Austen Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, and what a celebration it was. And if only for this weekend, blueberries, hotdogs, baked beans, and pickles had to step aside for tea and scones.
Our foursome of Janeites, comprised of the members of the Jane Austen Book & Tea Club, made the six-hour drive from Milwaukee to Louisville to experience four glorious summer days of Austen-themed workshops, demonstrations, shopping, and entertainment. Dressed in our period finery each day, we blended right into the Regency landscape. The stately grounds of Locust Grove were populated each day with costumed Austenites who'd come to experience a fairytale weekend which included an afternoon tea, fashion show, and lavish grand ball. The casting director of any Austen film adaptation would have had his or her pick of extras from this impeccably costumed assembly.
Locust Grove, a 55-acre visitor interpretive center, named for the Georgian mansion built in 1790 by William and Lucy Clark Croghan, played host to the majority of festival events. Now a national historical landmark, the plantation once hosted prominent figures such as James Audubon, Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and Andrew Jackson. Lucy Clark Croghan was sister to William Clark who lived out his final years at Locust Grove. The cultural and heritage museum located in the Visitor Center offered a rich and in-depth look at the history of this home, plantation, and gathering place. During the course of the festival, some toured the mansion's gracious interior while others sat on the veranda observing a game of shuttlecock.
On the lawn, four badminton enthusiasts, myself among them, braved the sweltering temperatures to give this game a go. How often does one have the chance to play with an antique racket and a birdie made of cork and feathers? I was thrilled to discover, when the shuttlecock first made its way to me, that when smacked with a racket, surprisingly, the vintage birdie flew as far as its modern counterpart. The only drawback was its tendency to lose feathers in mid-flight. By the end of the game, a lone feather clung to the nearly bare cork.
Shopping called to other visitors. The Shops of Meryton offered tea and Regency fashions for purchase as well as jewelry, soaps, parasols, and millinery. Lavender lemonade was on hand throughout the day for refreshment while some stalwarts chose to sip hot tea in spite of the summer temps.
Although many would say the high point of the weekend was Saturday's Regency ball, and it was, in fact, a splendid evening of English country dance and beautiful live music in a very lovely room, I would have to say that for our little band of time travelers the highlight of the weekend was our meeting, for the first time, a new friend who had driven up from Arkansas to join us for the festival. Having become acquainted, initially, through our membership in the Jane Austen Pen Pal Club it was a thrill to come together for an event such as the Jane Austen Festival. We met on Friday evening on the grounds of Locust Grove and ordered crepes and Kentucky bourbon ice cream (fuel for the English country dance lesson that would follow over the course of the next two hours). I tried my first Muffuletta (known to some as the "big sandwich of the Big Easy") and loved it..
The three days that followed were filled with fun and friendship. It was my goal, in creating this fairly new website, to connect Austen fans the world over so as to encourage the sharing of our love and enjoyment of this brilliant author. I am grateful to know firsthand that friendships have already begun…. To me this is right up there with fireworks!