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Fourth of July Celebrations

Fourth of July, ColdwaterOver the years, Kansans have found numerous ways to celebrate our nation's birthday.  Some these activities reflect their own era and some are timeless.

Luna Warner was a teenager living near Cawker City when she wrote this account on July 4, 1871.  Her writing reflects her youth.

We flew around and got ready to go to Cawker to the celebration. Louie [her brother] started at 8 o'clock. . . . After the procession [parade] passed, we went up to the arbor by the schoolhouse. The soldiers [Civil War veterans] ate first.  Then what a crowding and scrambling there was!  Some got something to eat and some did not.  We got a little.  Were so tired standing on our feet that I spread my shawl on the ground and we sat on it. Mr. and Mrs. Thompson and a few others sang.  Then they had speaking and a pony race. . . . Then came the minstrel performance and I stood on a board across the tables to see it. . . . In the evening we stood out by the house to see the fireworks.  They set off some, then the rest got afire and some went scooting around on the ground, killed one dog.  Viola went to the ball with Mr. Heeler.

Martha Farnsworth, a resident of Topeka off and on from 1887 until her death in 1922, kept a diary for 40 years.  In 1895 Martha wrote that she attended a postponed Fourth of July concert and fireworks at Garfield Park on July 12.  She indicated that 5,000 people were present and she had trouble hearing the band.

The account that appeared in the Topeka Daily Capital on Saturday, July 13, 1895, indicated that the count was based on the number of 10-cent tickets taken at the gate.  Marshall's Military Band played the six selections scheduled for July 4 plus three requested by the crowd—Amorite, Directorate, and I Don't Want to Play in Your Yard. The article continued, "Immediately after the concert, the display of pyrotechnics was given, lasting about an hour, and affording a magnificent sight."  Actually only the evening events at Garfield Park were cancelled due to a downpour around 5 o'clock. Marshall's Band played morning and afternoon concerts.  Food vendors sold "hot candy," ice cream, and lemonade and the "ladies of the Episcopal church conducted a flourishing business at the stand, where they sold everything from sandwiches to cherry pie."  The newspaper included the following flowery but tongue in cheek description:

People went out early in the morning and with baskets filled with dinner remained all day, enjoying the cool breezes, sitting under the trees and watching the boats gliding over the beautiful waters of Soldier creek. Hammocks were the most conspicuous objects, next to the pretty girls and stunning gowns, in the park. Swung between big trees and little trees, in shady nooks and in quiet places, this household comfort which demonstrates its usefulness to the young man by throwing the occupants of the affair into delightful proximity was very much in evidence.

Other events in Topeka were held as originally scheduled.  In fact, the Topeka Daily Capital headlined a story on July 4, 1895, with "No End of Ways to Celebrate In or Near the Capital City."  This included double-header baseball with one game in the morning and one in the afternoon—between a Topeka team and one from Whiting-Holton at "Athletic Park."

The fair grounds was the site of horse races, balloon ascensions, and the start of a bicycle road race (those with the big front wheel).  The racing program included a two-year old trot, a newsboy's race, and a novelty chariot race. The newspaper account noted, "every horse entered is owned in Topeka."  There was also a prize of $2 to be given to the man or boy who could ride a trick mule the longest.  The route of the bicycle race was to Pauline and back but the riders were hampered by strong winds.  Although 20 riders started the race, only 14 finished.

On July 4, 1895, an event at Moon's Grove, 12 miles west of Topeka, had speeches, dancing, and a demonstration of the firing of a gatling gun by Battery B of the Kansas National Guard.  More than 2,000 people attended this event.  The Topeka Turnverin, an organization for German Americans, had a reception and dancing at their hall. Vinewood Park was open to the public and was described as "one of the lovliest spots in the suburbs."  The Populists and temperance supporters had political meetings.

The newspaper article published July 5, 1895, summarized activities of the preceding day:

The glorious Fourth has come and gone and in its wake come reports which indicate that the 119th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence was as happily spent by Topekans as any anniversary that has gone before.  It was certainly as noisy as usual by reason of the efforts of the small boy and his larger associates to usher in the day, celebrate its continuance and herald its departure with divers demonstrations made by anything that would produce a racket and add to the din which is supposed to be a part and parcel of the proper celebration of the day.  This desire for noise was responsible for the consumption of piles and stacks, even wagon loads, of firecrackers and their associates, the big ones, which produced a concussion all over town when they exploded.

Perhaps some things don't change much over time!

Entry: Fourth of July Celebrations

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: July 2004

Date Modified: May 2011

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.