On July 4, 1911, Springfield’s morning newspaper, the Sun, declared the 13 deaths that had marked the Fourth of July celebration, a “wonderful decrease” in the 28 deaths reported the year before.
“The number of injured reported is 294, as compared against 1,785 last year,” it added. “In 1909, there were 44 killed at 2,641 injured.”
It’s for that reason that in 1912 city fathers hoped to get through Independence Day without too many people watching their limbs become independent of their bodies.
Safer and saner
“Every preparation for the celebration ... as the safest, sanest that has ever been held in Springfield has been made,” the Sun announced, “and it is hoped and believed that when the roll call is called at the close of festivities tonight showing the names of those who have been killed or maimed ... none of this city will be among the number.”
In an editorial, Charles Kay went further.
“Fires, lost limbs, tetanus and a host of other casualties have drawn the popular mind to ration measures for elimination of many of the detrimental effects of using gunpowder to stimulate patriotism,” he wrote.
As a result, “the more dangerous chemical elements formerly employed in explosives and pyrotechnics have been changed to something less destructive to life and property.”
In comments that would set off political pyrotechnics today, Kay said “the habit of carrying a pistol and of flicking it in the face of companions is a bad one.”
Kay said he was encouraged by the fireworks pistols that caused injuries to many young boys.
“The bearing of the real pistol has been the source of more evil than good in American society ever since the days of established order and safety,” he wrote, “and the average citizen has now no more legitimate need for a pistol on his person than he has for a Bowie knife or sabre.”
Kay also held out that technology — in the form of safer electric illumination — would not only continue to make attractive displays for the holiday but “some day .... will also make our shocking noises and the patriot explosions for us in a harmless and satisfactory manner.”
Hammers and tetanus
Neither technology nor appeals could save people like Phillip Flints of near Plattsburg from the long gash he got in his cheek after a piece of metal opened it up when he took a hammer to a torpedo firework.
In a 1910 front page story, the Sun warned its readers to take care in the treatment of any scrapes, cuts or burns suffered during the celebrations, saying lockjaw, the ultimate result of infection with tetanus, “is always due to carelessness.”
Although the Geo. Hauck Co. and the sporting goods firms of P. Slack’s and Sons and Geo. E. Meek were all still peddling firecrackers, the advertisements noted they were “harmless but enjoyable.”
Clearly, though there was plenty for people to do on the Fourth without lighting a match.
At 19 S. Fountain Ave., the W.F. Kennedy Co. was offering “family liquors by the gallon.”
Nearby Yellow Springs was holding its sixth annual Chautauqua, an educational festival patterned after the famous Chautauqua Institute of New York.
A later report said the Springfield & Xenia Railroad took an extra 500 passengers to the village’s Neff Park to hear entertainment and listen to Judge Stringer, “one of Chicago’s leading orators.”
The event included a performance by the Kellog Haines Concert Company, in which the performers were “forced to respond to 17 curtain calls.
Springfield’s celebration wasn’t without cerebral fare: C.J. Bowlus was providing the literary event from 4 to 5 p.m.
But other events in Snyder Park — called the “mecca” of celebrations — included city tennis championships, foot races (including one specifically for fat men), quoits matches for all comers, a baseball game and both afternoon and evening fireworks.
That year also featured a cornerstone laying for the new Knights of Pythias Castle on West High Street, and the eighth annual homecoming reunion for children who had grown up at the IOOF Home.
Things did not turn out perfectly, of course.
Gabriel Wright Sr. made the holidays memorable for his son by getting drunk and beating him with a leather belt because the boy had borrowed his brother’s hat and spent two quarters tucked in the bill that weren’t his.
Said the Sun, “He was a livid mass of welts and bruises.”
Indeed, during the otherwise safe, sane Fourth, the “21 arrests ... made during the day (made it) the biggest day in police circles for many months.”
Many of the offenders, it seems, had been imbibing family liquors by the gallons.
Devoid of danger
By and large, though, Springfield had been comparatively sane and safe.
After an evening concert in Snyder Park, during which the “sweet strains of the martial airs” came from the instruments of the Yolo Band, the pleasing pyrotechnics came.
“For an hour, the heavens were bright with fair-colored stars from set pieces and other designs,” said The Sun, “and it is not stretching the point in the least to say that it proved the most elaborate display of fireworks ever given in Springfield.”
As with other things safe and sane, the fun had been “devoid of danger.”
Contact this reporter at (937) 328-0368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.