150th Anniversary Of Homestead Act Will Be Celebrated With Impressive Event May 20-25

Homesteaders in Nebraska in 1886. NARA photo.

Homesteaders flooding the American heartland in the 1860s couldn't have imagined electric lights, so if it were possible for any of them to return to Nebraska on May 20, 2012, they would be astounded indeed. A celebration of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Homestead Act at Homestead National Monument of America will feature a laser light show... and much more from May 20-25.

Event organizers have planned an impressive array of activities, and the location is certainly appropriate. Homestead National Monument of America, located in southeastern Nebraska, is located on the site of what's believed to be the first land claimed under the Homestead Act. Daniel Freeman filed his claim at 10 minutes after midnight on January 1, 1863—the first day the Homestead Act was in effect—at the Land Office in Brownville, Nebraska.

Freeman's claim was only the first of many. By the time settlement under the Homestead Act ended in 1986, about two million individuals had used the Act to settle approximately 285 million acres—around eight percent of all the land in the United States.

Band Music, Mounted Color Guard, Laser Light Show and More on May 20

The lives of those pioneers and the Act that made their dreams possible will be celebrated on Sunday, May 20. There will be plenty to do at the park all day; the key events kick off at 6 p.m. with a posting of colors by the Commanding General's Mounted Color Guard from Fort Riley, Kansas, and a special processional of 30 state flags to represent the states that were homesteaded. Each flag will be carried by a descendant of a homesteader from that specific state.

Following the processional, a special group of national speakers will offer reflections on the impact and legacy of homesteading. Shortly after the guest speakers, the United States Air Force Heartland of America Band's " Brass in Blue" will perform a special concert from 8:00-9:00 p.m. This show will include traditional pioneer and patriotic songs.

Concluding the evening's events will be "a one-of-a-kind laser light show from 9:15-9:45 p.m." According to a park spokesperson, "This amazing performance will tell the 150-year history of homesteading in a visually stunning light routine specially created for this Anniversary." This event will start around 9:15 p.m. outdoors, using a giant screen at the Heritage Center.

The combination of lasers and music will allow "visitors of all ages … to experience the amazing history of homesteading." There will be a designated viewing area for visitors with hearing impairments who would like to view the transcription of the audible script as the show is performed.

Good Reasons to Arrive Early on May 20

In addition to having plenty of time to enjoy the park, there will be other reasons to arrive early for the day's events. Beginning at noon on May 20, the first 1,000 individuals visiting the park will receive a special medallion commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Homestead Act of 1862. These commemorative medallions have been specially designed and cast and will only be given away at the Homestead Heritage Center. The medallions have been made possible through support from the Gage County Foundation and the Friends of Homestead.

During the day, visitors can enjoy on-site concessions, hiking trails, and a look inside a real homesteader's cabin. At 4 p.m. a special forum on President Abraham Lincoln's legacies of establishment of the United States Department of Agriculture, Morrill Act and Homestead Act of 1862 will be held at the Homestead Education Center.

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The original copy of the Homestead Act is on display at the park until May 28, 2012.

The original copy of the Homestead Act, signed by Abraham Lincoln, is on display at the park daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. until May 28, 2012.

Key Things to Know For the May 20 Event

Event parking on May 20, 2012, will be at the Gage County Fairgrounds in the nearby town of Beatrice, Nebraska; free shuttle service will be provided. Limited parking for disabled visitors will be available at the Heritage Center parking lot at Homestead National Monument of America.

The 6 p.m. program, 8 p.m. concert and 9:15 p.m. laser light show will take place outdoors. If there is inclement weather, additional information will be provided on the day of the event. Food vendors will be available onsite. Only small coolers, less than 14" square will be allowed into the Heritage Center grounds, and alcohol is prohibited. Assistance animals are welcome but pets will not be allowed at the event.

More Events May 21-25

In addition to the main event on May 20, the park and a number of partners are offering Chautauqua at Homestead, with an impressive slate of talks, demonstrations, music and other activities. Those activities run from May 21-25 in the park and nearby in Beatrice, Nebraska. You'll find a complete schedule at this link.

All events at Homestead National Monument of America are free of charge; the celebration is being funded by a number of local, regional and national organizations. You'll find driving directions and other details to help plan a visit on the park website.