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Independence Day celebrations of bygone days

The year was 1928. The biggest headline on the day after the Fourth of July was about a raid of a still in Sugar Valley, where $20,000 worth of liquor, plus machinery and materials, had been confiscated. Calvin Coolidge was president and he had spent the day, his birthday, fishing in Wisconsin. The weather, however, was also on the minds of city residents.

“Jupiter Pluvius seemed content to pass Williamsport and the vicinity by yesterday after a long siege of rainy days during June,” the July 5 edition of the Gazette and Bulletin read. “The city’s celebration of the nation’s anniversary which began near

midnight Tuesday and continued all day Wednesday was untroubled by rain.”

With temperatures in the 90s many from the city had headed to their favorite swimming holes or had just chosen to take drives in the country to get away from the heat, according to a news account.

“Those who stayed in the city kept the streets ringing with the reports of firecrackers or other noisemakers. In the morning, children flocked to the various playground centers where sports featured the programs,” the article said. “Later in the afternoon, adults and children began to assemble at Memorial Park for a program which began at 4 and lasted until 10 last night.”

“Large night displays could be seen through the valley last night,” the report continued. “Cabin parties combined to get a varied colored display, many of which were visible from the surrounding hills and from the various river bridges.”

The day had not been without mishap, though, as there were many injuries from powder burns, and fire companies had been busy answering alarms caused by ignited fireworks dropping onto the roofs of buildings.

Three years later, in 1931, the city prepared for the powder burn injuries by posting a list of various emergency stations in the morning’s newspaper.

The temperature again was hot that year, topping 100 on the days leading up to the Fourth of July. In fact, it was so hot that several of the city’s fire stations had set up “duckings” for area children so that they could cool off. It was reported that over 300 children visited the sites.

The new fan spray used by No. 1 company was placed on the rear lawn of the post office.

“A fire hose running from a nearby hydrant to the fan spray sent the water high into the air, covering considerable space. Under the spray the children jumped up and down and danced about with glee,” the newspaper reported.

Watermelons were 55 cents and cantaloupes were two for 21 cents for picnickers to enjoy, but all stores were closed for the Independence Day holiday.

Programs were held throughout the day and the afternoon featured a special event for lovers of the pugilistic sport, with a benefit boxing show at Bowman Field. A fireworks display ended the day.

By the Fourth of July 1934, fireworks were a thing of the past, so the holiday was a quiet and safe one. No reports of powder burns appeared that year.

In 1939, the Gazette and Bulletin noted that “observations of Independence Day in Williamsport yesterday lacked the noise and fanfare of former years, being marked only by a hard rain and electrical storm in the middle of the afternoon and the annual community fireworks exhibition in Faxon.”

Because of a new state law at that time, explosive fireworks had been banned. That coupled with a local ordinance resulted in “an occasional shot from the cap gun of a youngster” being the only noise heard.

Festivities that year centered around Faxon Circle and it was estimated that thousands of people attended the fireworks display there at the end of the day as well as a flag raising, patriotic address and events for children that had occurred throughout the day.

July 4, 1942, was a more somber celebration. A patriotic rally honoring the men and women serving in the military, which had been scheduled for the Brandon Park Bandshell, was moved to the Capitol Theater on July 5 because of bad weather.

Thirty Gold Star Mothers were guests of honor at the event, a reminder to residents that the country was in the midst of World War II.

“Missing this year were fireworks displays,” the newspaper reported. “An occasional blast here and there through the city indicated that some had either saved or had managed to buy firecrackers. In the evening a few blazing flares, of the style used by the railroads, were the only reminders of the magnificent displays of pre-war celebrations.”

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