1898 Fourth of July Celebration
Written in 2000, By Allan H. Keith
Used with permission
It was the Fourth of July in 1898. The United States was in the midst of the Spanish-American War.
In Greenville and Bond County, local residents showed their patriotism by turning out for a huge celebration.
The Independence Day crowd on the courthouse square was estimated at from 10 to 12,000 people.
More than 400 people were on the speakers' platform, located at the southwest corner of the Bond County Courthouse lawn.
The crowds were generally orderly during the day's activities.
Greenville had not yet become "dry," as was indicated by this in the account in the Greenville Advocate:
"Splendid order prevailed throughout the day not withstanding the size of the crowd and the number of saloons handy."
The city marshall and his assistants "preserved splendid order in general though there were several scraps."
The day's events, including a big parade, were dominated by members of the Modern Woodmen of America (MWA), a fraternal life insurance society.
The Advocate's coverage of the day was dominated by a large portrait (line drawing) of William A. Northcott of Greenville, one of the day's speakers, who was Head Consul of the MWA and was lieutenant governor of the State of Illinois.
The parade was composed primarily of members of various MWA camps (lodges), including the Victory Camp in Greenville and camps from such towns as Woburn, Tamalco, Smithboro, Reno, Mulberry Grove and Fairview (now known as Pleasant Mound.) In charge of the parade was J. F. Watts.
Later events on the speakers' platform included an oration by W. D. Hoard, a former governor of Wisconsin.
Music was provided by the Greenville Concert Band, directed by J. A. Brouse, and by the Shelbyville Woodman Quartet.
Later, various sporting events were held at Douglas Place. (The 1900 Bond County atlas and plat book indicates that the Douglas Place Addition was roughly bounded by these streets: Vine, Clarence, Harris and White.)
Mulberry Grove beat Greenville 21 to 18 in the baseball game. The umpire was Will Johnson. R. C. Morris was in charge of the game.
W. W. Williams was in charge of the bicycle races. The first race was five times around the track, the second was twice around and the third race was for boys under 16 and was also twice around the track.
Foot races of 100 yards included a "fat man's race" for men weighing 200 pounds or more. The Advocate described this race as a "corker."
There was also a three-legged race of 50 yards.
One highlight of the day was a balloon ascension at Douglas Place by H. O. Shafer of Bloomington.
The Advocate reported that he "performed some daring feats" on a bicycle that was attached to his parachute.
Shafer landed by parachute just beyond the west city limits.
The day's celebration was marred by several people being injured in a fireworks explosion.
At about 7 p.m. the band began a concert. After about three numbers the fireworks display began, but sparks from one rocket, which had been "improperly manipulated," fell over the crowd.
One boy "suffered the loss of a new suit of clothes from the sparks, besides having his hair singed almost entirely off."
However those in charge continued their careless ways.
Sparks were allowed to fall on the fireworks stored near the speakers' platform.
"Rockets shot through the air, screaming women rushed frantically over each other in a dash for liberty," the Advocate reported. In the streets, "horses reared and plunged."
"Pandemonium reigned," according to the Advocate. Men and women rushed over the band area, upsetting instruments, music and racks.
C. W. Watson's drug store was struck by 13 rockets. Frank Watson and Sam Seawell held the screen doors "to prevent the frantic throng in the store from rushing into the face of danger."
(Incidentally, Watson's had had a very busy day, selling an estimated 1,300 to 1,400 glasses of soda water.)
Among the injured were a woman from near Dudleyville and her two children who were in a nearby wagon. There were at least seven injuries, some of them significant.
As the Advocate put it: "The day's festivities came to an abrupt ending."
Incidentally, a front-page notice reported that the Advocate office had just been moved to the northwest corner of the square to the room known a "Moss Hall" over Weise and Bradford's new store.
(Allan H. Keith, formerly of Greenville, is a free-lance writer and lives in Mattoon. firstname.lastname@example.org)
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