Celebration methods change
If the celebration of any holiday shows how Americans’ interest in recreation has changed, it is the Fourth of July. We still honor the origin of our great country, but the methods of celebrating and our ideas about entertainment have really changed.
Now, most Americans celebrate the holiday with a trip to the lake or other outdoor venues. For some it is a family time to enjoy a picnic, while for others the highlight is a fireworks show. Looking over back issues of The Chieftain you can easily see that around the turn of the 20th century, the Fourth of July was a huge celebration. In those long-ago days, a day away from work was a big event. There were very few times then when people could kick back, relax and have a good time. Community pride called for cities to put together a day full of entertainment.
One hundred twelve years ago, America was a lot different than today. It was mostly an agriculture-based society and farming called for hard work and long hours. In small towns such as Bonner Springs folks working at regular jobs often worked six 10-hour days.
It was an election year and a lot of candidates were expected to attend Fourth celebrations throughout the area. Roads were terrible and automobiles were very rare. A politician planning to visit a number of events had to carefully study railroad timetables and hope the trains were on time, or have a very fast horse.
Events included a parade led by the Bonner Springs brass band. Children from surrounding schools, lodges and churches were invited to join in the parade. Sadly, the parade route was not listed, and I wonder how much it differed from the modern Tiblow Days parade route. While there was a wide variety of entertainment, the most unique event was a “fat man’s” race between W. S. Twist and W. H. Green. The Christian Church presented a vocal concert and there were a couple of concerts by the seven-piece city band.
The two highlights of the day included a baseball game against Argentine and a community basket dinner. The event ended with the “biggest fireworks display in the history of Bonner Springs.”
Things hadn’t changed much by 1912 in Bonner. There were a lot more automobiles and telephones, but the city was based on agriculture and the ups and downs of the cement plant. It was again an election year, but this time it was a three-way race between President William Howard Taft, former President Theodore Roosevelt and Democrat Woodrow Wilson. The emergence of the Progressive party meant even more candidates would be at the celebration. The event featured band concerts, vocal presentations and oratory — lots of oratory. I really don’t think many modern Bonnerites would stand around and hear an hour-long speech by a politician.
Technology was part of the day. Local businesses made arrangements for telegraphic reports of action in each round of the Flynn-Johnson heavyweight championship boxing match. The round-by-round reports were posted throughout the grounds. The finale was a fireworks display.
For Bonner Springs and other small towns, Fourth of July celebrations remained popular until the outbreak of World War I, when they were curtailed to help the war effort. They rebounded in the 1920s, but were again cut back due to the Depression.
The important facet is for Americans to remember the real reason for the celebration. A few bold men had a dream of a country ruled by citizens, not a monarchy. They were willing to put their fortunes and lives on the line to win freedom from England. In the ensuing centuries, men and women have fought to maintain our freedom, and their sacrifice is the real reason for the holiday.
There are a lot of great fireworks displays, including the Bonner Blast tonight at the city band concert. If you plan your own display, be careful and obey all the rules and have a safe holiday.