July Fourth a century ago was like today, without the bagpipes

Echoes of our past
William & Joy Wangemann • forThe Review

The Fourth of July is almost here and my ears are still ringing with the thunder of drums, the blare of brass bands and the squeal of bagpipes from last year’s 4th of July parade. Bagpipes here in Sheboygan?

Up to about 25 or 30 years ago I doubt that many in our fair city ever heard bagpipe music, unless of course they came from Scotland.

Fourth of July is and always was the traditional start of the summer season with picnics, outdoor living and band concerts.

During the summer months it was not unusual to see a church sponsored band leading a small parade of church members to a favorite picnic ground for the churches annual summer picnic.

One such site now forgotten lay between the railroad tracks and Lutheran Cemetery, towards its northern end. The site owned at the time by the Lutheran cemetery was a favorite spot for leisurely summer church picnics.

Most of the time the annual church outings were held on Sunday and were complete with outdoor church services. Once the services were over families would visit and decorate the graves of family member’s.

After the gravesite visits were over the church members would return to the picnic area for an afternoon of fun and games.

Summer band concerts were always a favorite with the people of Sheboygan. In places such as Lakeview Park, Fountain Park and Sheridan Park weekly band concerts were held in quaint raised bandstands, now all torn down. These bandstands looked as though they had been taken straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Special open trolley cars were run to Elkhart Lake and Crystal Lake for such events as the popular Elkhart Lake Fireman’s picnic. At these gatherings beer and brats were a necessity, but then so was a brass band.

The band members came from whatever organization or city sponsored them. Don’t assume that because all the band members were amatures that the music was also amateurish, it was not, many of them were very good.

Organizations and churches were not the only ones to have summer outings, most of the larger industries in the city and the county sponsored large summer picnics free of charge to employees for a year’s hard work.

One of the largest and most eagerly looked forward to 4th of July picnics was the huge Kohler Company Picnic held near the Kohler Plant every summer.

On this festive occasion food and drink were plentiful, but on at least one these occasions the music was provided by a band considered by many as the best band in the USA, the mighty John Phillip Souza Band.

What a treat that was for picnic goers, to have the finest band in the country play for them.

But what was the 4th of July like in Sheboygan 100 years ago? In looking through 100-year old newspapers of the time it would seem that the holiday was celebrated not too much different than it is now.

The day started out with a parade that featured city officials, marching police officers, mailmen, firemen and troops of soldiers, all veterans of the Spanish American War and the Civil war.

The parade, much like today, would assemble in the area of N.8th and Center then proceed north to Michigan Ave, then west to Born’s Park. Born’s park, which no longer exists, was located between Michigan Ave. and St. Clair Ave., N.14th Street and N 15th. Street. The one square block park was gaily decorated with flags and bunting and illuminated at night by Japanese lanterns as well as the then new incandescent lights.

In the afternoon a concert was held and during the evening hundreds attended a large dance in a building on the park grounds known as the armory.

Food and drink, lots of it mostly beer, was provided. Throughout the city numerous halls and societies held dances, as well as many churches holding church picnics.

In the evening a large fireworks display was presented to huge admiring crowds. Then as now personal fireworks were illegal, but many chose to violate the law.

The Sheboygan Herald of July 5, 1905 proclaimed “Sheboygan had no fatalities due to the new law prohibiting fireworks, however six persons were injured. Even the pursuit of missing thumbs, together with torn finders, and powder burnt face is unusually small.”

More than the usual number of drunk and disorderly arrests was made by the police. It doesn’t seem that much has changed over the past 100 years.

Brass marching bands have a long tradition and history in our city. 50 years or more ago brass bands abounded, it seems that almost every church and fraternal organization had a marching band.

Many of the bands were sponsored by German fraternal organizations. Germans love music, love to dance to it, and drink beer to it, and just to listen to it. The German Ompa Band with its rumbling tubas and brass interments are still much admired by many.

Marching bands still exist of course but somehow they just don’t seem the same. Maybe it’s because were not sitting in a grassy park on a warm summer night with our arm around someone we care a lot about with stars twinkling overhead, as the band plays in a gazebo like bandstand.

What would Fourth of July be without the brass bands?

I have to go now I think I can hear the squeal of bagpipes. Could parade a be coming? I was wrong. I was standing on my cat’s tail.

Both Joy and I wish you all a pleasant and safe holiday. And please take just a moment to reflect on what the 4th of July is all about.

Today’s Tidbit; Parades and marching bands date all the way back to Roman times when victorious Roman Legions would be allowed to parade through Rome.

The Roman army normally was forbidden to enter Rome, but after a great victory they were granted what was known as a triumph, or parade as we now know them.

If you have any comments or suggestions for future columns please do not hesitate to contact me at 920-458-2974 or wangemann@yahoo.com

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