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The zest for celebrating the 4th hasn’t changed much in 200 years

By Linda Emley

Ilove the 4th 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 on July 2, but the document was signed on July 4. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were the only signers who later became presidents. 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 of Independence. 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.

According to  the Richmond Conservator, Ray County had an interesting fourth of July in 1892. For $1.50, one could get a whole year of the Richmond Conservator. Geo. W. Trigg, the publisher, ran his motto on the front of every paper, “IN GOD WE TRUST – ALL ELSE CASH!”

Trigg’s June 30, 1892, newspaper had hints of fun things to come. There was a section titled, “LOCAL MATTERS,” which 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 4th. 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 4th of July celebration will be held at Wilson’s grove, one of the finest natural parks in the state. Several car loads of cattle and hogs were shipped from this place on Tuesday. Roman Candles, Rockets, Firecrackers, etc. 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 cat fish have recently been caught in the 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 4th 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 4th, 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 4th 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 filled with people. The members of the Richmond band, which is noted for its splendid music, assembled in front of the court house 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 third of People’s Party and what it demanded, but 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 far 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 every thing 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, was the answer. “A shooting affray occurred at the picnic on the 4th 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, which 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 Clarks in my family tree, so now I need to see if this was any of my kinfolk.

Once again the Local Matters section of the newspaper was full of interesting items. “Nervous people, on whom the pop of a fire-cracker acts as an electric shock, are truly thankful that the 4th 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 4th 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 showed up the largest crowd ever before seen at a picnic in the county. Over at Lexington on the 4th, 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 4th and will continue to occur as long as men will continue to swing themselves from the average balloon.”

Last year, I started a new 4th of July traditition and helped with the American Celebration that is held at the Southview Park in Richmond. It’s hosted by the Richmond Chamber of Commerce and will start at 5:30 p.m., Friday, July 3.

I went a few years ago with my grandmother and watched the fireworks display. It will be bittersweet to be there without her, but I plan on working hard so others can enjoy this event and start new traditions with their families. I hope we will have many people come out and enjoy this fun event as we light up the skies above Richmond.

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.

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