This weekend, Fairmount will celebrate Bastille Day, a French holiday that commemorates the July 14, 1789, storming of the Bastille in Paris.
That event is considered the beginning of the French Revolution, and Fairmount is now in its 17th year of celebrating the pivotal act of rebellion.
Local celebrations for the French holiday kick off this year on Thursday, July 14, and continue throughout the weekend with bar crawls, special deals and French cuisine at area restaurants, film screenings, a decorated bike parade and more.
But, the highlight of the festivities has to be a re-enactment of the storming of the Bastille — with Eastern State Penitentiary at 20th Street and Fairmount Avenue standing in for the French prison.
The storming of the Bastille will take place following a street festival along Fairmount Avenue, from 2 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 16.
At about 5:30 p.m., actors will join festival revelers to “storm” the walls of Eastern State Penitentiary with pitchforks and Super Soaker squirt guns.
During the re-enactment, Marie Antoinette — to be portrayed, as always, by Terry McNally, co-owner of the nearby London Grill — will be captured and will be delivered to an “executioner” while crying “let them eat Tastykake.”
The words will cue actors atop the walls of Eastern State Penitentiary to rain 2,000 Butterscotch Krimpets down on the crowd.
It’s a strange Philly-French hybrid celebration for everyone in attendance, and everyone is welcome to participate.
And, if you’re planning to attend, why not look the part?
During the day, there will be costume contests and prizes for “Best French Themed Costume” and “Best French Character.”
H. Kristina Haugland, associate curator of the costume and textile department of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, offered some tips on how to dress the part of a resident of France in 1789.
Haugland penned “How to Dress for the French Revolution,” a guide that is available on the penitentiary’s Bastille Day website at http://easternstate.org/bastille-day.
The first choice for a costume depends on what side you’d like to take in the French Revolution. Would you like to be a peasant ready to revolt, or a wealthy aristocrat?
“Clothes were very important, very symbolic,” said Haugland as she displayed an 18th century silk dress, a piece of the museum’s collection.
“This dress, only the wealthy could afford this,” she said. “If you were rich, you wanted everybody to know it.”
Outfits worn by the aristocracy, she said, could cost as much as a car might these days.
To be a French aristocrat, one would want to wear fine silk outfits, full of ruffles, lace and delicate trimming.
Hairstyles too were a status symbol for the rich and here, women wore fantastically curled and coiffed locks, while men kept fanciful as well, with side curls and ponytails.
“You could tell who was wealthy and who wasn’t,” she said.
Another “escapist trend” for the wealthy, said Haugland, was dressing in outfits that might be reminiscent of the jobs of peasants — though the rich made theirs from fine materials.
Think of it as a playful, whimsical sort of costume; as an example, Haugland said, Marie Antoinette often liked to dress as a shepherdess.
Clothes for commoners were more purposeful.
They wore outfits of wool and linen, suited for the hard, daily work of the peasant.
But, as part of the revolution, commoners also wore certain symbolic articles of clothing.
For example, while men might wear typical work clothes, they’d accessorize with “rebel colors” of red, white and blue and a “bonnet rouge” or red cap.
These caps, typically a knit stocking cap with a short, blunt top, she said, were important as they had been worn by freed slaves in the times of ancient Rome and were worn by freedom fighters during the American Revolution — a conflict that greatly inspired the French.
In fact, a pair of “bonnet rouges” from the French Revolution is currently on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“Clothes came to symbolize the Revolution,” said Haugland.
During this weekend’s event, Haugland said by dressing in costume, those taking part in the upcoming celebration will immerse themselves in the history and culture of France.
Besides, it’s fun to dress up in costumes sometimes.
“It’s really good to see people learn about history like this,” said Haugland. “People don’t always know much about the French Revolution … and, it’s a lot of fun.”
Bastille Day celebrations in Fairmount kick off on Thursday, July 14 with a bar crawl in the evening.
Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Bastille Day Fest highlights
This week, Bastille Day celebrations will fill Fairmount. Here’s a taste of some of upcoming events.
Friday, July 15: “Fairmount Goes French” with French menu items at participating Fairmount restaurants and bars.
Also, there will be an Art After 5 Bastille Day Party featuring Beau Django at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and a “French Trivia Wheel of Fortune” at London Grill Bar.
Saturday, July 16: the free Bastille Day Street Festival will take place along Fairmount Avenue, in front of Eastern State Penitentiary, from 2 to 6 p.m.
At 2 p.m., there will be a Fairmount Pet Shoppe Pet Parade and a Fairmount Bicycles Decorated Bike Parade. There will be other contests and live music throughout the day.
A storming of the Bastille re-enactment will be held at 5:30 p.m.
Register your pet for the Fairmount Pet Shoppe Pet Parade at email@example.com. Prizes awarded in two categories, “Best French Themed Costume” and “Best French Character.”
Register your 4-10 year old for the Fairmount Bicycles Decorated Bike Parade at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two grand prizes from Fairmount Bicycles include new bike helmets and $50 gift certificates.
After the storming, the entire neighborhood of Fairmount will feature revolutionary happenings as area restaurants and businesses celebrate all night.
For more information and a full list of Bastille Day events, visit easternstate.org/schedule-events.