The Rock Island Public Library and Rock Island Parks Department are working together to shine a light on the Lantern Parade, a once-beloved tradition in Rock Island.

This photo of children in a Rock Island Lantern Parade is courtesy of Jorja Hepner Beert/Retro Quad Cities. It’s circa 1953 or 1954.

The two city departments will bring back the Rock Island Lighted Lantern Festival as part of the library’s 150th anniversary, and the Rock Island Party in the Park. The vintage lantern parade will wrap up the free Party in the Park that is 5:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 13, at Lincoln Park, 38th Street and 11th Avenue, Rock Island.

Activities include free hotdogs, popcorn, and Kona Ice (while supplies last,) a bounce house, face painting, balloon animals, music, and more fun and entertainment for people of all ages. Local businesses and organizations will be represented.

“The Party in the Park and Lantern Parade will be an exciting and well-rounded event, perfect for families and individuals looking to have a great time and learn more about their local community. It’s a great way to bring people together and celebrate in a festive atmosphere,” said Carrie Roelf, marketing coordinator, Rock Island Parks and Recreation Department.

The history of the Lantern Parade

Once a staple of summer parks programs, the first lantern parade was held in 1924. For roughly 50 or 60 years, Rock Island children in summer playground commission programs would make cardboard silhouette lanterns for the nighttime parade. The creations varied in size from small handheld box lanterns to appliance-sized boxes carried on litters or wagons.

Lantern Parade photo courtesy of Jo Noon from around 1997.

Organizations also participated, and the events attracted large crowds to events at the Rock Island High School Stadium and Longview Park.

Make your own lanterns

To help new generations discover an old tradition, the Library and Parks Department will host free lantern-making workshops on Saturday, Aug. 5, at three Rock Island Public Library locations. Library and Parks staff and volunteers will provide basic guidance, materials, and cardboard in the free construction workshops from 10:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the Downtown Library, Southwest, and Watts-Midtown Branches. Participants of all ages may drop in to start the process of making a cardboard shadow-box lantern. Participants will bring their creativity, and also supply a battery-powered light source. 

A supply list for making a lantern will be available on the library website, but if you don’t get around to making one in advance, the library will have small kits available at the Party in the Park. To make a small paper lantern at the Sept. 13 Party in the Park, stop by the library table in the Lincoln Park pavilion.

On Sunday, Aug. 9, 1953, the Des Moines Register reported that the 29th annual festival had attracted 7,500 people and 900 lanterns. The August 17, 1962, edition of Life Magazine also covered the Rock Island parade, noting that 500 participants had paraded silhouette lanterns through the night. After a long hiatus that started sometime after the mid to late 1970s, the parade resumed in 1997 as part of the 100th anniversary of Longview Park.

“We first heard about this unique local tradition from community members, and bringing it back during our 150th anniversary seemed like a great way to celebrate Rock Island history. People still have strong memories of making these lanterns, and the festival was covered in regional and national publications,” said Lisa Lockheart, publicity and outreach liaison, Rock Island Public Library.

To enter the parade

Participants planning to enter the Sept.13 lantern parade should gather at 7 p.m. at the large shelter near the band shell in Lincoln Park. The parade will start around sundown, and loop from the shelter to around the band shell and back again. There’s no cost to enter the parade, which is open to all ages and Rock Island organizations.

The lantern workshop and parade are just two of multiple events held in conjunction with the library’s 150th anniversary. The “Year of the Library” began with the 25th annual Frieze Lectures partnership with Augustana College in 2022, and will conclude with a Rock Island Public Library Foundation fundraiser on Nov. 4.

Previous events in the year-long celebration have included a rock placement at the site of the very first library near 2nd Avenue and 17th Street, special book club discussions, local walking tours, historical impersonators portraying Walt Whitman, Ulysses S. Grant, and John James Audubon, library “passport” contests, and a number of talks on library and local history. The first truly public library in Rock Island opened Nov. 25, 1872, the first in Illinois to actually open its doors after the local Library Act made tax-supported public libraries possible.

For more news about library services and events, visit here.

For questions about Party in the Park, contact or call 309-732-7275.