Featured image: The Ipswich Cornet Band always struck up the music for the Fourth of July. Among the members of the band in this 1891 photo are Walter Kimball, Joseph Malefant, Tom Brown, Albert Mallard, Fred Charles Rollins, Charles Dodge, Frank Page, Charles Glazier, Chester Bamford, Henry Stevens, Josep De la Haye, Oscar Littlefield, Frank Howe, Warren Dodge, Charles Spiller, and Dick Greenleaf.
How does the birthplace of American Independence celebrate the birthday of American Independence?
Published July 2, 1971
This year, as it has for the past several July 4ths, Ipswich will confine its observance to a parade and field day at Linebrook playground for the children, sponsored by the Recreation Department and VFW Post 1093. It was not always so.
William J. Barton of Argilla Road, who was 83 last January, remembers the halcyon days when adults as well as children turned out to honor their country, their flag, and the principles upon which they existed.
“The night before the Fourth of July,” Barton recalled, “thousands of people were milling up and down Central and Market Streets and Depot Square. At that time the sidewalks on Market Street were over 12 feet wide. Every man and boy carried a revolver, 22, 32, 38, 44 or 45 calibers among them, and shot off blank cartridges as fast as they could reload. Ladies and young girls carried cow bells, large tin horns, canes fitted with a percussion cap or pileate the size of an aspirin. Hitting the can on the side walk would cause an explosion.
“After our Greek population came to town, the enthusiasm and fervor of the Independence Day celebrations increased, because they had memories of their own independence fresh in their minds. The Greek boys really went to town. They had the best revolvers they could buy, and they spent more money on the Fourth than anyone else. They helped us to enjoy the day in a good old-fashioned way.
“At five o’clock on the morning of the Fourth, the sexton of the Methodist Church could open up the doors and let in the boys to ring the church bell for an hour. Then came the parade. They were always very big ones, and there were bands, of course. Most of my time was spent with the Fife and Drum Crops, the marching bands, and playing at the band concerts.
“Representatives of the town organizations marched in the parade and the merchants, mostly grocers and fish dealers and coal dealers, had floats. Derby Atkinson had a fish market with six routes and he would have three or more horse-wagons in the parade. Of course, there were no automobiles in those days.
“Fraternal orders, member of the Fire Department, bands, fife and drum corps and horribles all marched along the route, which was usually up Central to High and th corner of Locust Street. There was no railroad bridge there at the time I’m speaking of. The counter march went down High to East Street, sometimes to the wharf, then back up East and County to Summer, to Water and then across the Green street bridge to Turkey Shore Road. Then down Poplar, up Payne, to Argilla and then Linden to County Road. Next South Main Street down Market Street to Depot Square, and finally to Hammatt Street to disband.
“The floats were colorful with banners on the sides of the wagons, and some of the grocers would throw samples to the children lining the parade route. I remember one boat particularly that had a team of acrobats on it, performing for the crowds. Some the children followed it for miles, and practiced the stunts they saw for months afterward. One man, who had a mother almost 100 years old, contributed a little extra to have the parade detour past her window.
“In the afternoons, after the parade, there would be games such as potato races, 100-yard dashes, and three-legged races. Once there was a 10-mile marathon race round Market, Central and Hammatt Streets.
“And there were band concerts. Fourth of July night, fireworks would be set off in front of and on the side of the Congregational Church, and it was like a carnival. The skyrockets were huge, six feet long. They would be shot from the North Green to the hills in the rear of Spring Street.
“The Civil War cannons that were in front of the monument on the North Green would be taken to the Green Street bridge and fired up or down river. Sometimes they would be on Town Hill and would fire from the location of the Liberty pole—that’s what flag poles were called at that time.
“One night before the Fourth, the committee in charge of events built a large fort of sleepers or railroad ties on top of Town Hill in the rear of the Episcopal parsonage. There were no trees or brush on the hill, those days.
“The fort was filled with everything that would burn. At midnight, a parade was held by the Independent Order of the Red Men, which was once a flourishing organization in town. The members were all dressed as Indians in war paint, and carried tomahawks and bows and arrows. After a war dance around the fort, and plenty of war cries, they began shooting burning arrows into it, until it finally caught fire. It was very exciting, and something to remember. The fire lit up Market Square almost brighter than day.
“There was horse racing in the afternoon at the track on Linebrook Road where the Doyon School now stands. When I was 16, the band had a concert out there, and I played the cymbals.
“Small children could have a wonderful time celebrating all day with perhaps the expenditure of 50 cents or 75 cents. A cap pistol cost 25 cents, and a box of 100 caps, 2 cents. A few boxes of torpedoes to throw against the ground, a few packages of two-inch firecrackers, with maybe 50 in a package, and, above all, a tin horn to blow, and that was a perfect Fourth for a small boy.
“For larger boys there were salutes, 2, 3, 4, and 5 inches long and 5-8 inches in diameter. There were some as large as 10 inches long and 2 in diameter, and those really made a big noise. A few boys had home-made cannons, sawed-off muskets which were filled with gunpowder. These were surely dangerous, but they made a big noise.
“If the tide happened to be high on Fourth of July afternoons, there were all kinds of water races held in the cove off Elm Street. There were swimming contests, too. The tub races were a lot of fun. Each contestant had a three-foot tub which he had to paddle by hand. Row boats, canoes, and even gasoline boats in their infancy then, with three horsepower motors, all tried to get to the finish line first. One time a scow was anchored in the cove, with a band on it. All of the boats were gaily decorated with Japanese lanterns, and the band played. It was very impressive. It was a glorious and wonderful Fourth of July.”
In a different era, Attorney Ray Sullivan remembers that the big thrill for the young boys on Independence Day was to slip into the Old North Church and-or Methodist Church and surreptitiously ring the bells in their steeples. The real challenge was to escape while the peals still rang out so that the police could make no identification of the culprits. It is not too hard to imagine a tired officer, garbed in the traditional blue serge year-round uniform of the day, waiting under the shade of a North Green elm for the boys to have their fun, and scamper off, while he saved himself a hot and fruitless chase.
Attorney Sullivan recalls fireworks, but they took second place in his recollections.
“The best thing was to pack carbide and water into a milk can, and set it off, and then run fast. It made a noise like a cannon going off.”
One woman had memories of more recent years, and said: “As a child I was afraid to walk down the street, because the boys would throw what they called `salutes’ in front of me. These were little explosives that burst with a loud noise and a flare when they hit the ground. They came in 2 inch and 5 inch sizes. But I really liked the Roman Candles, the Sky Rockets, and especially the fountains that neighbors along the streets would set off. And the Chinese ladyfinger crackers that popped off a string. It was a day that I wanted to be over, so I could watch the lovely colors of the fireworks in the sky. I’d actually watch the sun go down, inch by inch, and wonder if it would ever get dark.”
A Linebrook resident said he doesn’t remember much about the Fourth, except that, “Fred Whittier, Jr. was hurt one year when a cherry bomb exploded in his hand. I used to walk down the street and enjoy the neighbors’ fireworks and, of course, there was always a carnival at the Linebrook Field, with fireworks afterward. The last big fireworks displays in Ipswich that I know about were those held on Spring Street for the celebration of Ben P. Moseley’s 75th birthday, and Mrs. Min Crane’s birthday on Hog Island some time later.”