TYPICALLY, THE DEFEAT OF JESSE JAMES DAYS in Northfield finds Randy and me avoiding this college town only 20 minutes from Faribault. Crowds and congestion keep us away as thousands converge on this southeastern Minnesota community to celebrate the defeat of the James-Younger Gang in a September 7, 1876, attempted robbery of the First National Bank.
But this year, because of COVID-19, the mega celebration scaled back, leaving Northfield busy, but not packed. And so we walked around downtown for a bit on Saturday afternoon, after we replenished our book supply at the local public library—our original reason for being in Northfield.
On our way to Bridge Square, a riverside community gathering spot in the heart of this historic downtown, I paused to photograph the latest public art project here—a floral mural painted on the side of the Domino’s Pizza building by Illinois artist Brett Whitacre. (More info and photos on that tomorrow.)
Northfield’s appreciation of the arts—from visual to literary to performing—is one of the qualities I most value about this community. As a poet, I especially enjoy the poetry imprinted upon sidewalks.
I was delighted also to see and hear a guitarist quietly strumming music in the town square while people walked by, stopped at the iconic popcorn wagon or waited in line for corn dogs and cheese curds. Several food vendors lined a street by the park.
Among fest-goers I spotted Defeat of Jesse James royalty in their denim attire, red bandanna masks, crowns and boots, the masks a reminder not of outlaws but of COVID-19.
Yet, in the throes of a global pandemic, some aspects of the celebration remained unchanged. At Quality Bakery a half a block away from Bridge Square, the western-themed window displays featured the bakery’s signature celebration pastry—De-Feet of Jesse James.
For a bit of this Saturday, it felt good to embrace this long-running event, to experience a sense of community, to celebrate the defeat of the bad guys.
© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling