Fort Wayne residents on a staycation crowded 12 local attractions from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday as part of the 15th annual Be a Tourist in Your Own Hometown.
Kristen Guthrie of Visit Fort Wayne said 60,000 passports were given away before the event, and she expected a turnout of more than 20,000 people.
I think people look forward to it every year, Guthrie said. We hope they’ll become ambassadors for Fort Wayne sharing these places with friends and family.
Guthrie said she hopes the event will encourage residents to explore the city from a different perspective. Around noon, hundreds of tourists took her advice to heart, waiting in a line wrapped around the Lincoln Tower for a chance to travel 22 stories to the observation deck at the top.
About halfway down the line on Berry Street, Steve and Deborah Griebel of Churubusco waited with their two elementary-age children Olivia and Xavier.
The Griebels were in line about 20 minutes at the time, and they say the wait wasn’t bad on the overcast day.
We came out to see the city, Deborah said.
Xavier Griebel pulled out his passport and started flipping through the places he wanted to visit.
The family planned to visit Parkview Field, Artlink, the Museum of Art and the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory later in the day if they had time. They wanted to come to the Tower first because the kids had never been to the top before, Steve said.
Other stops on the tour included the Allen County Courthouse; the African/African-American Historical Museum; the Embassy Theatre; Historic Fort Wayne; the History Center; Science Central; and the Visitors Center.
In the Lincoln Tower lobby, visitors perused the main floor of Tower Bank and admired the work of local architect Alvin M. Strauss, who designed the art deco structure built in 1930.
Julie Bobay, facility coordinator for the bank, said an 82-year-old woman who worked as an elevator matron in the building when she was in her 20s visited around 12:30 p.m. Sunday and shared stories with some of the staff.
That’s the best part of the day, Bobay said. Hearing the stories.
John Felts of Visit Fort Wayne said the bank is a fan favorite every year. It had more than 1,800 visitors last year, and he expected a similar turnout this year.
People like to find their houses and see the city, Felts said. It’s a good way to introduce them to downtown.
Near the front of the lobby, tourists crammed into elevators headed to the observatory.
But Jordan Jayme, a student at IPFW, and her best friend, Megan Showman of Fort Wayne, a recent graduate of Indiana Tech, managed to slip into an elevator of their own.
Jayme let out a nervous breath as the doors closed and the elevator began rising.
I like heights, Jayme said. I just don’t like elevators.
This is Jayme’s first time visiting the Lincoln Tower. Showman, her friend from camp, has been attending the event and visiting the Lincoln Tower every year for as long as she can remember.
It’s a family tradition, Showman said.
Her family was already at the top of the tower waiting for her and Jayme to arrive.
The elevator doors opened to a few more flights of stairs where visitors of all ages squeezed past one another single file, one line going up and the other line going down.
At the top, visitors crowded the edges of an open-air observatory and looked out over the city in all directions.
Ethan Dumser, 6, was excited to find some of his favorite buildings in town with his family. His favorite was Parkview Field where the TinCaps play.
His older brother, Sam, 11, liked seeing the courthouse from above.
The courthouse was another popular first-stop for visitors who didn’t want to wait in a long line for the tower.
Behind a welcome table in the main lobby, Robyn Zimmerman, executive director of Allen County Courthouse Preservation Trust, was stamping visitors’ passports as they filed through.
Zimmerman said they usually see about 2,000 visitors during the event, and Sunday’s turnout looked pretty typical.
I’ve already seen some familiar faces, Zimmerman said.
She said most visitors come to see the Grand Courtroom’s original artwork dating back to 1902.
The courthouse usually hosts one-hour tours during the week, but they’ve shortened the tours for this event to 20-30 minutes.
The tours give visitors more information about the building’s ornate features, such as its marble pillars and tiled floors.
It’s about the architecture and artwork, Zimmerman said. It’s a lot of history.
David and Roseann Wallace of Fort Wayne attended the one-hour tour about one year ago.
Armed with his digital camera, David Wallace said one of the reasons he wanted to come back was so he could take pictures.
They usually don’t allow you to bring cameras in, David Wallace said.
Roseann Wallace said the artwork and beauty of the building were two of the reasons they chose it for their first stop.
You don’t see stuff like this every day, she said.
On the third floor, other tourists wielding cameras gathered near the center circle, looking up at the coiffed ceiling.
Two friends from Miami Middle School, Sebastin Broom and Samuel Parker, both 11, said they had visited the courthouse once last year for a school trip.
I like the looks of it, Broom said.
Glenna Hissong of New Haven wandered the third floor of the courthouse with her friend Susan Smith, who lives north of Columbia City.
Coney Island was the first stop of the day for the two Fort Wayne natives.
Hissong had been to the Allen County Courthouse only once before for jury duty, and she was disappointed that she didn’t have more time to explore the architecture.
Smith said her uncle was a Superior Court Judge at the Allen County Courthouse, which was another reason the women decided to tour the building.
It’s something we’ve always wanted to do, Smith said. You have a lot of things you say you’re going to do, but never take the time to do them. I’ve lived here all of my life, and I’ve never been to a lot of these places.