On Saturday, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. and the 219 Day Committee welcomed Region Rats from all across Northwest Indiana as they threw a party to celebrate 219 Day, the Region’s official holiday.
Held annually at the Hammond Civic Center, 219 Day offers a celebration and chance to enjoy a slice of just about everything the Region has to offer. From local musicians like the Nomad Planets and the Crawpuppies, to Region exclusive food like Zel’s Roast Beef, Jodie’s Italian Ice Factory and more. Attendees partied hard as a giant Region Rat looked on from above, it was weird, but Mayor McDermott would not have it any other way.
“We had a huge crowd last year and are building a huge one this year, there are still cars pouring in,” said McDermott. “There’s only one place in America that can celebrate February 19th, and that’s the Region, Northwest Indiana. It’s the middle of February, it’s cold, snowy, and icy, but we’re having a party at the Civic Center celebrating us.”
The adult’s only party themed itself around “Feats of Strength” and offered tons of events for Region Rats to test their mettle like gladiator jousting, a punching arcade, thumb wrestling, wall climbing, tattoo contests, and more. Attendees with Indiana themed tattoos received gift certificates to The Tattoo Lady, and beer enthusiasts could try a large sampling of local craft brews. Crown Brewing, 3 Floyds, 18th Street Brewery, Byway Brewing, Misbeehavin’ Meads, and One Trick Pony Brewery all brought their best brews to celebrate.
The event also celebrated the Region’s history and culture, as Michael Jackson tribute artist Rico Hampton put on a show honoring the King of Pop, who hailed from Gary. Hampton, a Chicago resident, also performed last year and did not immediately understand why so many people would call themselves Region Rats and celebrate a random day in February, but it clicked.
“I came out here for 219 Day and I didn’t really know much about it, they’d sent me pictures of the giant rat and I just didn’t understand it,” said Hampton. “Then they explained it to me, and I understood and came out to do my thing. When I’m performing, it’s the energy and volume that I like to feel. Once that gets in me, I totally zone out, it’s like Michael Jackson’s spirit is in me.”
Hundreds braved the cold and snow to join the party, with people from Crown Point to Michigan City joining in the free festivities. As hit after hit played out on stage, the crowd danced, sang, and embraced the culture of the 219.
“I love it, it’s wonderful,” said DeeDee Smith, one dancing attendee. “An event like this gets the community out, plus its wintertime and even though it’s cold outside, it’s warm in here. Get in here and do some physical activity!”
Celebrating 2/19 on 2/17 might seem a little crazy. Dancing to Michael Jackson under a giant inflatable rat might seem strange. To Northwest Indiana residents however, it’s all the crazy and weirdness that makes the Region, “‘da Region.”