219 Day celebrates quirkiness of Region

Hammond Mayor Thomas M. McDermott Jr. poses in his Region Rat regalia during the first 219 Day party at the Hammond Civic Center. The celebration returns Saturday.

The newly minted Region holiday – 219 Day – returns Saturday night at the Hammond Civic Center to celebrate Northwest Indiana in all its quirky glory.

Yes, that's Feb. 18. But Hammond Mayor' Thomas McDermott said the party will go to at least 12:01 a.m. so the celebration will at least technically fall partly on 2-19, a homage to Northwest Indiana's 219 area code.

"2-19 is a Sunday this year, and we wanted to have it on a Saturday," he said. 

In 2015, McDermott issued a proclamation declaring Feb. 19 an official holiday after Twitter comedy account Region Rat Rants invented 219 Day as an occasion to pay tribute to all things Region, like drinking beer, stuffing one's face with ethnic sausages and shooting off fireworks.

Last year, Hammond threw an actual party that drew thousands, trended on Twitter and included such zaniness as the mayor in a top hat and a sleeveless muscle shirt. Vice President Mike Pence, who was then governor of Indiana, tweeted out, "I’m this . What makes Northwest Indiana great is what makes all of Indiana great: our people."

Hammond is bringing back the festivities, which will include local food and craft beers, bands like Dick Diamond & The Dusters, a Region Rat pinata, arm wrestling and a mechanical bull decorated to look like a rat. It's a tongue-in-cheek homage to the Region Rat moniker that's been in circulation in Northwest Indiana for decades, dating back to the mill rat nickname once used to describe steelworkers. This year's theme is Back in Rat, a reference to the AC/DC album "Back in Black," and Hammond is selling T-shirts with a rat shredding on an electric guitar. 

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"I'm excited about 219 Day," McDermott said. "We've got great acts, including a famous AC/DC cover band. There's a lot of entertainment planned."

The event is free, and takes place at the Hammond Civic Center at 5825 Sohl Ave from 6 p.m. to a little after midnight. It will cost $5 to participate in the arm wrestling tournament, to snap some retro selfies in a vintage photo booth or to mount the "Ride the Rat" mechanical bull. It will also cost $5 for beers from local craft breweries that include 18th Street Brewery, Byway Brewing, Figure Eight Brewing, 3 Floyds and One Trick Pony.

Performers include DJ Turn It Up, Bonfire, Stormy Weather, and a Michael Jackson impersonator.

Sponsors include Herrera's Towing, American Community Bank, Bellsom Electric and Purdue University Northwest

For more information, call the Hammond Civic Center at 219-853-6378 or visit 219day.com.

Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.