Legends & Lanterns on
Historic Main Street
in St. Charles, Missouri
By Amanda Markel
St. Charles, Missouri, has been the setting of many of the happy memories my family has created over the years. There’s something special about the history and charm of the area, which is evident from the old buildings to the brick-paved streets. The first thing that comes to mind for many people when they think of St. Charles is Christmas Traditions, and we have been enjoying that festival for more than a decade. But the new Legends & Lanterns festival, held in October, quickly became an event we look forward to all year long!
The first year we went, I didn’t know what to expect from the festival. But I was aware that it would be focused on history and literature—two things I love—and that it would have a great local flair, so I was eager to check it out. Right from the start, it was clear that there are no generic witches and ghosts at Legends & Lanterns. St. Charles put on its best spooky early 1900s vibe without losing its naturally affable atmosphere.
Every carefully chosen character from history and folklore has a unique tale. It may be a strictly true story, a true-ish story that has been embellished over the years, or a story from a beloved myth. And, as the name of the festival suggests, each legend has an accompanying lantern post, which reveals even more about the character you have encountered.
The assembled cast portraying the various legends is fantastic. We met historical figures including Guy Fawkes, Edgar Allen Poe, and Lizzie Borden. Literary legends we met include Medusa, the Big Bad Wolf, and Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett. All of the characters will share a bit of their story with you (and may try to convince you of their innocence). Some are funny. For example, Blackbeard entertained us with bad pirate jokes, and Stingy Jack could easily be renamed “Silly Jack” with his antics. Some characters, such as Ichabod Crane, are more earnest than goofy. The Druid priestess and Abigail Williams are eager to share a bit of the history of the areas from which they came.
If you see a mob of angry villagers while you’re enjoying the beautiful fall weather, autumnal decorations, and banter of the characters, don’t panic. They may accuse you of witchcraft, but despite their pitchforks and wary expressions, they’re harmless. They may even serenade you with Monster Mash or Thriller! I don’t think Historic St. Charles has ever sounded so spirited before!
“Plaza del Dia de los Muertos” in Berthold Square is a bustling place during Legends & Lanterns. The elegant skeleton La Catrina is on hand to explain the Mexican holiday. Colorful sugar skulls decorate the square, and there are also examples of the altars families make to honor their deceased loved ones. This is also the place to visit if you’re interested in crafts because they have supplies on hand to make your own mask. Free face painting is available, although the lines can get long because everybody wants to sport a festive face.
On the other side of Main Street is the home of Scarecrow Glen. Local organizations and businesses demonstrate their creativity with all styles of scarecrows, from the familiar (Mickey Mouse and Spiderman) to the indescribably unique, which, of course, I can’t describe. There’s a “straw poll” so visitors can vote for their favorite. It’s hard to pick just one, though, because as soon as you’ve decided which scarecrow is the best, you find another, equally amazing creation that makes you reevaluate your whole rating system. Or maybe that’s just me.
The best thing about Legends & Lanterns
is how well orchestrated it is.
Horse-drawn carriages are not a rare sight on Main Street any time of year, but the horse-drawn hayrides that are offered during Legends & Lanterns are. They’re not just hayrides, but portals to even more haunting history, as each ride includes a storyteller.
There are also ambassadors walking up and down Main Street who may share a local story about a ghost or haunted location. If you still haven’t had your fill of haunting, you can check out the Mourning Exhibit at the Katy Depot, where you can learn how certain aspects of mourning became popular in the Victorian era, and which of those customs are still prevalent today.
The best thing about Legends & Lanterns is how well orchestrated it is. Even if you’re new to St. Charles, it’s easy to figure out what’s going on. The legends are stationed up and down historic Main Street. The fact that each has his or her own static post, conveniently located next to a well-labeled lantern decorated to match their persona, makes it easy to find each character. And each character has a unique stamp that they provide, which has a space in the “passport” available throughout the festival. The high-quality passport is especially popular with children because it allows them to take the festival home in the form of stories, activities, and even recipes.
My family is never disappointed with any visit to historic St. Charles, whether we’re shopping at one of the unique local stores, enjoying a lunch or dinner at one of the great restaurants on Main Street, or attending one of the festivals that St. Charles has become known for. Legends & Lanterns may be a relative newcomer to the St. Charles events calendar, but it’s executed so exquisitely that it feels like an age-old tradition. We’re already looking forward to the next festival!