In celebration of this weekend’s July 4 holiday, here are some Independence Day vignettes from Vincennes that span the 20th century.
A floral parade was a big feature of July 4 in Vincennes in the early part of the 20th century, with carriages and automobiles decorated with paper flowers. In 1914, the Vincennes Moose Lodge staged a four-day spectacular, from July 1-4, with a total of four different parades, including a floral parade and an industrial parade. One entry that drew much attention in the latter two parades was that of the Terre Haute Brewing Co., which had a branch on First Street. The business entered one of its enclosed beer delivery wagons, drawn by four horses. The wagon and horses were all brought from the main office in Terre Haute.
It was the horses that became the most talked about feature of the parade, called one of the most magnificent teams ever seen in Vincennes. The team was described as “all big iron grey draft horses, a dead match in weight, color and general appearance, each weighing over 1,500 pounds.” They were adorned with plumes and had fine brass mounted harness. Parade spectators enjoyed seeing such quality animals.
Another parade entry that brought much comment that year belonged to John Risch, president of the Vincennes Milk & Ice Cream Co. (later Tip Top Creamery). Risch and his wife rode in a car that featured a 10-foot high milk bottle of white flowers, with cream color flowers at the top. Big models of Jersey cows stood on the front fenders.
Although there were horses in the July 4, 1930 Vincennes parade, it was an ordinary delivery horse standing innocently on Main Street that caused the most drama that day. Prior to the start of the parade, the horse-drawn wagon belonging to the Peoples Ice & Fuel Co. was parked on Main Street, when a miscreant tossed a firecracker directly beneath the horse, the resulting noise causing the animal to embark upon an uncontrolled run.
Although a number of people tried to stop the frightened horse, it was Virgil Fisher, a fireman at Hose House No. 3, who was finally able to take hold of the horse’s bridle after it made a north turn onto Ninth Street. Although no one was injured, by the time the horse was stopped, 600 pounds of ice had fallen from the wagon and was strewn along the street.
For many years, the Tri Kappa sorority planned a July 4 celebration for the children living at the Knox County Orphanage on the corner of Fairground Avenue (now Washington Avenue) and St. Clair Street. In 1931, the organization spent $15 on sparklers, firecrackers, skyrockets, Roman candles, and other types of fireworks for the orphans. Sorority members also gave them a special treat of four gallons of ice cream.
The summer of 1936 remains the hottest on record. On that July 4, even though the temperature reached a scorching 98 degrees, the heat did not deter holiday activities. The newly dedicated George Rogers Clark Memorial had more than 1,000 visitors that day. The evening fireworks display at Riverside Park (now part of Kimmell Park) drew an estimated 15,000 people.
The Memorial continued to be a big draw during the holiday. In the days around July 4, 1939, it was attracting visitors from all over the country. That summer, a minister from Oklahoma was so taken with Vincennes and the Memorial that he bought 350 color postcards. The man had quite a task ahead of him, as his intention was to send a postcard to each member of his congregation. Since a postcard stamp cost just a penny at that time, he would spend $3.50 just to mail his cards.
In the summer of 1957, the Clark Memorial boasted its 1 millionth visitor. On July 4 of that year, it was reported that a member of the Roper family, Mr. and Mrs. N. B. Roper and their son, Jim, had that honor. The Ropers were visiting from Denver.
Finally, 60 years ago, on July 4, 1960, downtown Vincennes was bedecked with flags, as was typical of the holiday. That year was different though, in that, on that date the 50-star American flag we know today was made official, with Hawaii having achieved statehood on Aug. 21, 1959. The Vincennes Civitan Club sold the flags to downtown store owners and they were attached to the parking meters making for a dramatic scene of red, white, and blue.
Brian Spangle can be reached at email@example.com. His latest book, “Hidden History of Vincennes & Knox County,” published this year by The History Press, is available for purchase at the Knox County Public Library and on Amazon.