Chariton always has celebrated Independence Day in a big way, so far as anyone knows, and that will be the case this year, too, commencing with the Johnson Machine Works Flying Anvil 5K Walk/Run at 8 a.m. Saturday, community worship on the square at 10 a.m. Sunday and a variety of events, carnival rides and such Monday-Wednesday leading up to the big parade at 1 p.m. on the 4th and fireworks at 10 p.m.
July 4, 1867, seems to have been a big one --- the first trains reportedly arrived in town on the newly completed Burlington & Missouri River line that day. And one of the biggest celebration of all may have been on July 4, 1876 --- the nation's centennial. Unfortunately, no first-hand accounts of either survive.
Working my way through frustratingly incomplete issues of early newspapers on microfilm yesterday, the earliest report regarding a celebration I could find appeared, thanks to cranky editor John Faith, in The Chariton Democrat of June 29, 1869 --- and this dealt with plans for the event rather than the event itself, which John failed to report upon.
By today's standards, planning began very late --- not until Monday, June 22, when an organizational meeting was held at the courthouse and a committee was appointed to organize the celebration --- N.B. Gardner, chairman; Capt. A.U. McCormick, secretary; A.H. Stutsman, David Beem and G.B. Routt.
This "Committee of Arrangements" then retired to the clerk's office to "make arrangements for an Old Fashioned Celebration," which was scheduled for Monday, July 5, most likely to preserve the sanctity of Sunday. Various subcommittees were appointed, including Finance, Grounds, Music, Toasts and Salutes. Officers of the day were to be Dr. J.D. Wright, president; Wm. C. Penick, vice-president; Thomas Popham, chief marshal; and Jesse Coles and L.N. Funk, assistant marshals.
Then as now, the location was to be the public square, and the following schedule was worked out:
1st --- Prayer by Chaplain, Rev. Tappan;
2nd --- Music, by the band;
3rd --- Reading of the Declaration of Independence, by Rev. Mr. Pomeroy;
4th --- Music, by the Glee Club;
5th --- Oration, by Robert Coles;
6th --- Music, by the band;
7th --- Refreshments (basket dinner);
8th --- Music, by the band;
9th --- Toasts and responses;
10th --- Music, by the Glee Club;
11th --- Toasts and responses;
12th --- Music, by the band;
13th --- General good time, by all.
And, of course, "Fireworks at Night."
Toasts were big in those days, and were not quite what we think of when toasts are mentioned today. Orations and responsive huzzahs were involved rather than hard liquor --- although no doubt there was a good deal of that going around, too. The following toasts were to be delivered: Our Country by Col. Dungan; The Day We Celebrate by Mr. Maple; Our virgin State, unrivaled in soil and climate and free from debt, offers inducements to the poor and worthy unequalled by any other in the Union by T.M. Stuart, Esq., The Ladies of Iowa by N.B. Branner; and The Army and Navy by A.A. Stutsman.
Unfortunately, as I said earlier, there was no follow-up report in later issues of The Democrat to tell us how the whole thing went.
Since reports for 1876 have vanished, I turned next to 1875 and 1877, hoping to get some feel for how the celebrations had developed by then by sandwiching the big year --- but was a little disappointed.
There were two almost passing references to the 1875 celebration in The Chariton Patriot's edition of June 30, including the announcement that "Henry Clay Dean will apostrophise the American Eagle in Chariton on the glorious Fourth. No man in these United States is move devoted to our native soil."
Although largely forgotten now, Dean had been a noted Copperhead and apologist for the Confederacy who, despite that, remained a popular orator in Chariton --- staunchly Union --- after the Civil War. His home in 1875 was Rebel's Cove, a large farm tucked into a bend in the Chariton River just over the Missouri state line southeast of Centerville.
And this: "The C.B. & Q.R.R. will sell half fare tickets for excursions on the 4th. A large number of people from various points along the line will probably embrace this opportunity to visit Chariton. If they don't, they miss a good thing."
But the Patriot editor seemed more interested in the a big celebration planned for the 4th --- on Sunday again this year and therefore observed on the 5th --- in Burlington. Keep in mind that in 1875 Lucas Countyans thought little of Des Moines, where everyone heads today, but looked toward Burlington on the Mississippi, easily reachable by rail, as their principal city.
"They are going to have a big time at Burlington on the 4th (rather the 5th)," The Patriot reported, "a trades procession, soda water, oration by Robt. Collyer, ice cream, foot races, beer, fire works, &c. Half fare on the railroads, hospitable treatment by the citizens and a good time generally for everybody."
No accounts of Chariton's celebration appeared in The Patriot of July 7, but the editor did note that "County Treasurer Custer took a trip to Burlington to attend the 4th of July celebration on Monday of this week, which was the first time he had been out of the county for sixteen years, and the first time that he ever boarded a train of cars except one ride to Russell in this county a few years ago."
Others on that excursion, in addition to J.B. Custer and his daughter, Carrie, were County Recorder J.B. Smith and wife, County Auditor Robert McCormick, Mr. D.M. Thompson and wife, Mr. R.J. Coles and wife, Mr. E.B. Woodward and wife and Mr. Thomas Ewing.
In may be that a lengthy report of a storm that had occurred Thursday evening, July 1, crowded out other news of the 4th. Under a header "The Great Storm," the Patriot described that storm as "the most terrible thunder and rain storm that we have ever witnessed."
During 1877, The Patriot published on Wednesday, July 4, and included the following program for the day:
National Salute at sunrise.
Procession formed at 10 o'clock between D.M. Thompson's and Catholic Church.
Meeting called to order at 11 o'clock.
Prayer by Rev. J.W. Todd.
Reading Declaration by Rev. .A. Russell.
Oration by J.C. Mitchell.
Fantastics, 2 o'clock.
Toasts, 3 o'clock.
Balloon, 7 o'clock.
Fire-works, 8 o'clock.
And there was a follow-up report in The Patriot of July 11: "The celebration at Chariton proved to be quite a success after all (no indication of what the anticipated difficulty had been). A good crowd was present and a pleasant day and evening were spent. The principal speech was delivered by J.C. Mitchell Esq. and was quite a happy effort. The Declaration was read by Prof. Russell and short speeches made by Robert Coles and S.D. Wheeler. Our Band, than which there is no better in the State, furnished some excellent music and, in the evening a small supply of fireworks was exhibited. The ice-cream saloons did a good business and all went as merry as a marriage bell. But few drunks and no fights as far as heard from."