Thursday, July 5, 2012

Kazoo celebrates the Centennial, 1876

The day began with a bang, literally. “The booming of cannon, the firing of musketry, of musketry of small guns and fire-crackers, the ringing of bells, sounding of whistles” awakened anyone attempting to sleep in. The village swelled as teams and trains brought thousands from outside the village to attend the day's festivities.

The town was painted red, white and blue with streamers, bunting draped from windows and flags waving from both homes and businesses. “Some people decorated their families, after using up all other space, and centennial babies were not the least patriotic part of this city.” “Miss DeYoe and Miss Chase, dressed as goddesses of liberty,” were “especially charming, graceful and memorable” as “they waived [sic] their pretty flags while the procession passed by.”

The procession itself, was 1.25 miles long and was more than just a Kalamazoo affair as attested to by the number of groups from surrounding communities. It was led by Crossett's Cornet Band of Constantine, followed by the Kalamazoo Light Guard, the Centreville Cadets, the German Workingmen's Benevolent Association, the Holland Workingmen's Association and St. Augustine's Benevolent Association. The Peninsular Commandery, the Three Rivers Commandery and the Odd Fellows marched next. Then came many companies of Firemen: Eurekas, Vigilants, Victories, Snails (from Paw Paw), the Asylum Fire Guard and the Hook & Ladder truck. A carriage drew Dr. Hitchcock and Mrs. Cameron dressed as George and Martha Washington followed by a terraced “chariot, with Goddess of Liberty, and Ladies representing” all 37 states in the union. Guests and village officers came next. The Kalamazoo Cornet Band and the Kalamazoo County Cavalry preceded the old stage coach. Then the trade wagons passed, decked out to display their wares, including millinery, tea, knitted goods, agricultural implements, carriages, sewing machines, handles, ice wagons, musical instruments and even carriages of the Forepaugh Circus and Menagerie. “It was a noisy affair.” Organized Granges and citizens in carriages brought up the rear.

The oration was given by Gen. Isaac Sherwood. 100 years ago, America was “a country without credit, without allies and without a flag. . . The empire of today, stretching from ocean to ocean, was not even a prophesy to the most hopeful of the brave spirits who signed the Declaration. Yet stripped of its prophetic spirit, the spectacle is no less grand – a handful of scattered colonists, surrounded by hostile savages, harassed by tory taunts and sneers, rising up without arms, without money, and unschooled in war, to confront and defy the leading power of the earth.” It certainly was a bold move to thumb their noses at Britain.

After describing some of the fathers of the revolution, including Washington, of course, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and others, Sherwood continued. “Hallowed be the memory of men like these! Would that their names, every one, were cut in a mountain of granite, under whose sacred shadows as the centuries roll away, the children of the nations might gather, to write anew their noble epitaphs, and emblazon them with the unutterable glory of their achievements!” I think he would be happy to see that Washington and Jefferson were memorialized years hence on Mount Rushmore.

Sherwood made sure to mention that the Revolution was not a simple, glorious victory, something too quickly forgotten as the years passed. He said, “Let us never forget the Continental army. We must remember that science and organized human charities, had not yet appeared to ameliorate the horrors of war. No benign sanitary commission followed close upon Washington's bare-foot soldiers. Blessed anesthetics brought no relief to the terrors of amputation. No rail roads bore away the weary convalescents to quiet retreats. No daily mails carried words of sweet consolation from loved ones at home. No telegraphs bore swift messages – speaking by seconds, from heart to heart.”

“But we must hurry over the dire disasters that followed the American cause. Let us turn our eyes from Washington's depleted army, thinned out by desertion and the dread casualties of disease and battle. We can cast but a pitying glance at that ragged remnant of any army that sways and falls on the floating ice of the Delaware; that fixes its cold hungry trip on the desperate Hessians of the British Dragoons. We must pass over the perils and privations, the ghastly sufferings and sickening horrors of Valley Forge. Let us turn back from the bleak valleys, whose snow-clad roads are stained for eight long miles with the blood of Washington's perishing veterans. Let us pass by the wild-eyed starving regiments that have taken up their weary march to wrest redress from a bankrupt nation and a forgetful Congress. Let us leave the cruel price of our liberties and turn our glad eyes to the fruits the century has gathered.” This conflict lasted eight and a half years from when “the first American blood reddened the fields of Lexington and Concord” to “when Washington resigned his sword at Annapolis.” Sherwood then went on to describe how the nation had changed, in population, in territory, in equality for all men (at least on paper) and in technology.

Following this oration, the crowds dispersed until the afternoon's historical address by Foster Pratt. In addition to giving a history of the territory and state of Michigan he also gave a brief description of each settlement in the county as well as some of the early settlers. When he was through the assembly again broke up until the commencement of the fireworks.

The fireworks consisted of no fewer than thirty-three different displays. Some were stationary pieces, but I wonder if more oohs and aahs were elicited by the bombs bursting in mid-air. In addition, colored rockets, stars, serpents and gold rain delighted the spectators. Meteor rockets, silver shower batteries, parachute rockets and many other pyrotechnics wowed those in attendance before the satisfied crowds made their ways home.

After all of the hoopla surrounding the Centennial (and I'm not saying they shouldn't have been proud to reach that milestone), Americans were probably feeling pretty cocky. However, unbeknownst to those in the east, Custer's troops had been routed days before at the Little Bighorn. The victorious Indians may have wished rather than hoped that that battle could be the start of their own Independence Day. But that was not to be, though their struggle wouldn't be finally over until the massacre of Indians at Wounded Knee in the waning days of 1890. As for Kalamazooans, the report from the west didn't appear in the Telegraph until after the Centennial festivities were concluded, making the front page on July 6, 1876.

Kalamazoo Daily Telegraph. 7-5-1876

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