Students chanted “Light it! Light it! Light it!” while holding up foam torches. Songs such as “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and “Great Balls of Fire” played on a loudspeaker.

The more than 1,000 people gathered Thursday morning at the Jackson County Courthouse were excited to witness a historic event — the lighting of the bicentennial torch.

After a few speakers, retired veterinarian Jack Gillespie of Brownstown put the torch over a mobile cauldron set up on the courthouse steps.

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Once it was lit, he lifted it up and then walked down the steps and onto the sidewalk.

He was one of 26 county residents who carried the torch through Brownstown, Seymour, Vallonia and Medora as part of the Indiana Bicentennial Torch Relay, the commemorative event as the state celebrates Indiana’s 200 years as a state. This year also marks the bicentennials of Jackson County and Brownstown.

Among those attending Thursday morning’s torch lighting were students from Brownstown Elementary School, Brownstown Central Middle School and Lutheran Central School.

Sixth-graders Aaron Drake and Emma Hughbanks said it was an honor to watch the ceremony.

“It was cool seeing the torch being lit. Everyone was chanting and clapping,” Aaron said.

“It was really cool because I saw it on the news and really wanted to watch it, and then our teachers said we were going to watch it, and I was really excited,” Emma said.

Middle school students spent the day participating in a variety of activities after the torch lighting, including forming a “200” on the high school football field for a picture.

“I think it’s good because we still get to learn while we’re having fun at the same time,” Emma said. “It shows a lot of respect to Indiana and Brownstown and Jackson County.”

Watching the start of the torch relay near the courthouse was a special moment for Brownstown Elementary third-grader Finley Wheeler because her great-grandfather, Carl Shake, was the second torchbearer.

She was able to see him carry the torch toward a classic car and then take a ride around the courthouse before passing it on to Cliff Sommers.

“I saw him and thought he was really happy and was really having fun,” Finley said.

She said she was grateful for the opportunity to watch the torch lighting and relay.

“We get to have fun today, and I was just excited to see the torch lit,” Finley said.

Classmate Caleb Walton also said it was a fun experience.

“I’ll remember seeing them light the torch and walk around,” the third-grader said. “I’ve never seen a torch like that before.”

Jennifer Peak, a third-grade teacher at Brownstown Elementary, said her class had participated in several bicentennial activities leading up to Thursday’s relay.

On the first day of school, one of the county’s fiberglass Bison-tennial bison, which was painted by the school’s art teacher, Robb Reynolds, was on display in the lobby.

The week leading up to the relay in the county, the class had been watching it online as it went through other counties. The students also received a bicentennial packet with a workbook, and they ate birthday cake to celebrate the local and state bicentennials.

“It is exciting to get everybody excited about what we’re doing here today and giving them more of a firsthand look of what it’s all about, getting together with the community and seeing everybody here coming out and supporting our torchbearers,” Peak said. “It’s a pretty big day.”

Peak wanted her students to realize the importance of the bicentennial and the relay.

“This is a special day because we’re not going to see a bicentennial anymore,” she said. “For us to be able to be a part of this and watching all of the torchbearers … I’m so glad we were able to come and watch as a group and be able to show the kids this because otherwise, they might not have been able to come.”

Peak said she will remember the excitement of everyone, including her students, gathered near the courthouse Thursday morning.

“Typically, we could talk about it in a history lesson,” she said. “But to be here and see everything, all of the excitement, it’s no better feeling than to see them being so excited about the history.”

Also Thursday, several parochial school students gathered in front of Immanuel Lutheran School in Seymour as the torch relay went through the city. A couple of schools also gathered at Emerson Elementary School to watch the relay, and Seymour High School students saw the torch as it went along Community Drive.

The torch relay started Sept. 9 in Corydon, the state’s first capital. The relay will go through all 92 counties by Oct. 15, when the torch arrives at the Statehouse in Indianapolis.

If you go

The Bicentennial Planning Committee of Jackson County is organizing a bicentennial celebration for Oct. 7, 8 and 9 at Freeman Field in Seymour.

The event will feature groups and vendors with booths and fundraising events; games and sporting events; concerts; a beer and wine festival; fireworks; a fly-in; a remote control aircraft display; a car show; hayrides; bounce houses; a tractor display; a craft and flea market; airport museum tours; a community picnic; and a community choir performance

For information, visit jackson-co-indiana-bicentennial.org.

On the Web

To follow the Indiana Bicentennial Torch Relay as it journeys around the state, visit in.gov/ibc/torchrelay.

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.