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I love the Fourth of July because 56 men put their “John Hancock” on the Declaration of Independence and now it’s our job to keep their dream alive.
John Adams, one of these men, sent a letter to his wife Abigail saying, “The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
Adams was right on everything except the date. The vote for independence took place July 2, but the document was signed July 4. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were the only signers who later became president. Adams was our second president and Jefferson was our third. Both men died on the same day, July 4, 1826, which was the 50th anniversary of the Declaration.
George Washington’s signature is not on the Declaration because he resigned as a congressman to become the commanding general of the Continental Army. He did, however, have the honor of reading it to his troops when Independence was declared.
Per the Richmond Conservator, Ray County had an interesting Fourth in 1892. For $1.50, you could get a whole year of the newspaper. George W. Trigg, the publisher, ran his motto on the front of every paper: “IN GOD WE TRUST – ALL ELSE CASH!”
His June 30, 1892 newspaper had hints of fun things to come. There was a section titled, “LOCAL MATTERS” that would have a news item and then a plug for the picnic. “County court will be in session next week. Green apple and cholic season is almost here. Fireworks at Richmond on the evening of the Fourth. Let us organize a Democratic campaign club at once. Richmond will celebrate and don’t you fail to remember it. Campaign hats and badges are already becoming quite numerous. The Mosby building is being treated to a fresh coat of paint. The Fourth of July celebration will be held at Wilson’s Grove, one of the finest natural parks in the state. Several carloads of cattle and hogs were shipped from this place on Tuesday. Roman candles, rockets, firecrackers, etc. are available at Finley’s Book Store. Next Monday will be a national holiday. The post office and the banks will be closed and the county officers will take a rest. Some extra fine catfish have recently been caught in Crooked River. Fill a basket with good things to eat and come to Richmond on the 4th. The committee will entertain you with music, speeches and fireworks. The east end den, the twin hells den and the dive near the depot all did rushing business last Saturday. And the city authorities “winked the other eye.” The band boys are getting in good shape for the Fourth of July celebration and will astonish the natives with some of the finest music ever heard in this section. You can spare one day from the corn or harvest field and that day is July 4. Come to Richmond on that day and enjoy it in listening to good speeches and splendid music. And arrange your affairs that you can remain until night to see the magnificent display of fireworks.”
So everyone knew there was going to be a party in Richmond on the Fourth, but I want to know the real story about the “twin hells den.” It just might be one of those stories that I can’t repeat.
The July 7 Richmond Conservator gave all the details about the party. “Thousands of People Assembled to Celebrate the Day of the Nation’s Birth. As had been previously announced through the columns of the city papers the Fourth was appropriately celebrated at Richmond last Monday. The day was a splendid one, as pleasant as a May morning, and at an early hour the people from the country began to come in on trains, in wagons, carriages, buggies and on horseback. And by ten o’clock the streets were througed with people. The members of the Richmond band, which is noted for its splendid music, assembled in front of the courthouse and played several of the popular national airs and then formed in a line and marched to the picnic grounds to the tap of the drum and the sweet strains of music. The crowd soon followed, and in a short while thousands of people were assembled ready for the pleasures and enjoyment of the day. Ample preparations had been made for the occasion and the only thing lacking was the distinguished orators who failed to put in their appearance, hence the crowd was not bored by any four-hour talks by spread eagle orators. The only talk made was by Pearl Brown, who started out as the patriotic orator of the day but soon switched off to his favorite theme. The People’s Party and what it demanded, but he did not tell what it would do were it placed in charge of the affairs of the government. And his hearers knew about as much when he began talking as when he quit so for as he had been the means of enlightening them.
“From time to time during the day, the band treated the crowd to music and with one or two exceptions everything passed off in a quiet manner and those who attended had no fault to find with the treatment they had received.”
So the “spread eagle” guest speakers did not show up and Pearl Brown tried to save the day by getting on his soap box. Sounds like a normal day, but I wanted to know what the “exceptions” were that passed in a quiet manner. A few columns over, I found the answer. “A shooting affray occurred at the picnic on the Fourth between a man by the name of Jas. Hennesy, and a man and his wife named Clark. The cause of the trouble was some slanderous reports that had been circulated with reference to Clark’s wife and which it was alleged that Hennesy was responsible for. Clark and his wife made the attack and used a club freely on Hennesy and finally drew a pistol and fired at him but without effect. They were arrested by the authorities and will be required to answer the charge of assault with interest to kill.”
I’ve heard of “intent to kill,” but “interest to kill’ is a new one for me. I have Clarkes in my family tree, so now I need to see if this was any of my kinfolks.
Once again the “LOCAL MATTERS” section of the newspaper was full of interesting items. “Nervous people, on whom the pop of a firecracker acts as an electric shock are truly thankful that the Fourth of July comes only once a year. All expressed themselves as having a pleasant time, though some were disappointed at the fireworks not being nearly so good as they were last year.
“The Fourth was a great day for the young people and from every quarter of the county the young men with their best girls came in to enjoy the picnic, which had the largest crowd ever seen at a picnic in the county. Over at Lexington on the Fourth, Richmond sports captured everything in sight. Our gun club beat the Lexington club by a score of 93 to 85. The game of ball by the Richmond and Lexington clubs was particularly exciting and was won by our boys hands down. The score was Richmond 18, Lexington 9. The usual number of fatalities to aerial navigators occurred on the Fourth and will continue to occur as long as men will continue to swing themselves from the average balloon.”
I have no idea what this last statement is talking about. The only thing I know for sure is, riding in a hot air balloon when fireworks are shooting through the sky is not a good idea.
Have a safe holiday and always remember the brave men that gave us our freedom. And while we’re thinking about it, thank a veteran, because they worked hard to make sure we get to keep that freedom. Happy birthday, America!
Have a Fourth of July or other story from Ray County’s colorful past? You can share it with Linda by writing her at firstname.lastname@example.org or seeing her in person during business hours at Ray County Museum.