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Where history meets fun

Shipyard Days begins in Seneca

SENECA — Almost 70 years ago, during World War II, Seneca was hard at work, manufacturing landing ship tanks (LSTs) for the war, earning the moniker “Shipyard on the Prairie.”

At the annual Seneca Shipyard Days, which began Wednesday evening and runs through Saturday, attendees honor the village’s contributions to the war effort, while enjoying food, live music and carnival attractions.

Michael Ellis, chairman of the event, said the event began as a way to remember the LST production, but has become a way for the village to honor veterans in general.

This year’s event features a full-scale replica aircraft carrier and LST, a historical display at the Seneca Public Library, and book signings by Gene Jaeger, author of a memoir about the Navy.

There’s also a beer garden, a miniature Cruise Night, and a hotdog eating contest.

“It’s a lot of history, but it’s also a lot of fun,” Ellis said.

One of the highlights on Wednesday, which was family night and did not include alcohol, was a “sneak peek” performance by the cast of “Rent: The Musical,” which will be put on by the Morris Theatre Guild in July.

Denise Gaska, stage manager for the production, said the event would help draw attention to the show.

“We’re helping to provide entertainment [for Shipyard Days],” Gaska said. “[Shipyard Days] helped us to promote the show.”

The famed rock musical, written by Jonathan Larson, tells the story of struggling young artists in New York during the AIDS epidemic.

Nico Garcia, who plays Angel in the show, said the Morris production will be set apart because of the intimacy of the performance and the sense of unity of the cast members.

“The best thing about our production is it’s very intimate,” said Garcia. “We have much more interaction with our audience.”

“We’re also very close as a cast,” Garcia added.

The cast, which includes Ellis, features actors from the area, as well as ones from out of town.

“I think people will be surprised by the caliber of performances,” Gaska said.

The carnival was also a big draw Wednesday night, the sky lighting up with the lights of the Merry-Go-Round and Orbiter, the grounds filled with the noise of carnival games.

Joanne Kasten, who lives in Seneca, brought her grandchildren, Mac and Maeve, to this year’s event.

“We come every year to support [the event],” Kasten said, adding that her husband, Fran, had served on the event committee before.

Mac liked the Merry-Go-Round best, while Maeve liked a car ride.

For Ellis, the blend of history and fun contributes to a sense of community at the event.

“If you want to have a good time, eat good food, and learn something while you’re at it, this is the place to be,” Ellis said.

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