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Community building through OcTrolleyFest helps lift Darby and its rich transportation legacy

A small borough in Delaware County is looking to celebrate its heritage in the upcoming 7th annual OcTrolleyFest. OcTrolleyFest is a unique fete of Darby Borough's rich history, which examines transportation, desegregation, and Darby's relationship with surrounding boroughs and Southwest Philadelphia.

OcTrolleyFest is the pride and joy of husband and wife John and Jan Haigis, who are widely known for their love of singing, history, and Darby Borough. These passions helped to inspire OcTrolleyFest, which "brings more attention to history and brings people together," John Haigis points out. His wife gushed "people can reconnect with Darby and people who've moved away can see there's still stuff going on in Darby."

The festival's calling card is the use of an old fashioned trolley, which provides free rides between Darby and Southwest Philadelphia the day of the festival. The rides act as rolling history lessons, as docents aboard the trolleys discuss the many historic buildings en route. Some participants, naturally including the Haigis duo, also impersonate historical figures important to Darby.

OcTrolleyFest is remarkable for Darby, since the low-income, high-crime borough is not used to festivals. The borough has been widely known for its crime, political bickering, and severe flooding for decades. Haigis' festival gives residents a chance to forget about all this for at least a day, and as the pair would eagerly say, hopefully instills a sense of civic and historical pride in borough denizens.

John and Jan Haigis have a lot of heartwarming memories from previous celebrations. John's favorite memories are punctuated by the time rock-and-roll chart-topper Charlie Gracie performed. As for Jan, she relishes the "150th anniversary of the horse-car line (now the Route 11 trolley) from Philadelphia to Delaware County" in 2008. She also fondly reflects on last year's event, which honored the century anniversary of the formation of the Darby Hilldales, which was a wildly success Negro League baseball team.

As for this year's OcTrolleyFest, scheduled for October 15, there are still some question marks as to what the Haigis couple will do. "There will be scarecrows for kids and a pumpkin parade," says Jan Haigis. However, the trolley route is still to be determined, especially since SEPTA is doing construction on the preferred route between Darby, Yeadon, and Southwest Philadelphia. John and Jan definitely want to reach out to local cemeteries in Collingdale and Southwest Philadelphia to recognize the work of African American visionaries who are buried there. With these uncertainties in mind, John Haigis promises there will be "music, fun, and surprises."  

Sources: John and Jan Haigis
Writer: Andy Sharpe
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