Wednesday, June 29, 2016

What a difference 25 years makes

July 4th festivities in 1884 DeLand. Note the flag
with 13 stars. Photo credit: Florida Memory
I tend to consider the decades of the late 19th and early 20th centuries as one lump of time: Florida's pioneer era. Yet within that era people and places grew and evolved, much as we do in modern years. To illustrate, here are comparisons between July 4 celebrations in 1884 and 1909.

This photo depicts the holiday's festivities in DeLand in 1884. The Florida Memory webpage states that the image was captured on the holiday itself - July 4. I'd never seen this photo before and I've seen a lot of vintage DeLand images. At first I was suspect. The scene doesn't look like DeLand. The downtown buildings aren't recognizable to me. But the distant trees in the middle of the road give the photo credence. Early DeLandites did, indeed, plant trees in the middle of the main boulevard.

My guess is that the scene depicts the end of a parade, one that was slim on participation. Nonetheless, it was a legit holiday observance. Note the giant, 13-star flag on display. And how people came out to watch the procession. They're all gathered in the shady spots. What else did townsfolk do that day? Can't say from the photo. Perhaps a picnic. Games and music. Surely something more than one straggly parade.

Now listen to how folks in Pensacola partied on July 4, 1909. In a giant headline on its front page, the July 6 issue of the Pensacola Journal proclaimed that a record-breaking crowd visited Palmetto Beach for the 4th of July. "Pensacola and Pensacolans turned themselves loose in this year's celebration of Independence Day," the article breathlessly proclaims.

A giant picnic hosted by the Knights of Columbus was deemed the crowning feature of hours of festivities. The leading feature was a baseball game played by teams from Pensacola and Fort Barrancas. The city team won, 12-3. "A list of sports of other kinds was also pulled off, to the delight and amusement of hundreds of people," the article says.

The day didn't end there. Dancing, vaudeville, bathing, and music by a "highly efficient orchestra" added to the celebration's luster. Things didn't wind down until the "last moon-lit night hour." The article makes particular note of the smooth, orderly transit of people to and from festivities via the city's "electric line."

I'm not sure what the electric line was; perhaps a trolley. One thing is certain, the 1884 celebration relied on horsepower and solar lighting a la sunshine, not electricity.

Which event was better?  I'd venture to say each was a success. You can't compare the two, really. They're products of their time. In 1884, electricity and the year 1909 belonged to the future. In 1909, nobody thought about a world war soon to loom on the horizon. Still, though a quarter-century apart in years and culture, the celebrants were united in their appreciation of the United States. That sentiment still stands. Happy Fourth of July.

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