How Chicago celebrated the glorious Fourth

July 4, 2012

What are your plans for the Fourth of July? This is how Chicago marked the holiday, at two different points in our history.

1862 — One-hundred fifty years ago, America was in the midst of Civil War, and Chicagoans anxiously scanned newspapers for reports of the great battles in Virginia.

Chicago’s holiday celebration began at sunrise, when cannons at Fort Douglas boomed out a salute to the nation born four-score-and-six years before. Bells rang throughout the city, and revelers fired guns into the air.

Soon trains were arriving at the downtown depots, bringing in country people who’d come to the city for the Fourth. Meanwhile, a smaller number of city people were on their way out of town for a day in the country.

A parade marked the holiday morning. Firemen, police, members of patriotic clubs and a contingent of guards from the military prison were the main marchers. As the parade passed, many spectators stepped into the street to follow.   

At noon the parade arrived at Washington Square, where thousands had already gathered. The afternoon program there included a reading of the Declaration of Independence, and various orations damning the treason of the Southern rebels.

The crowds dispersed in late afternoon, with people moving on to picnics, or family gatherings, or society dinners. The day closed with a fireworks display over the lakefront near Van Buren Street.

During that long July 4th, four major fires broke out in different parts of the city, resulting in over $50,000 in damages. Officials placed the blame on young people shooting off firecrackers.

1962 — Fifty years ago, America was at peace. In a major address, President Kennedy declared that the nation’s goal should be a “declaration of interdependence” with a united western Europe.

Chicago’s July 4th was marked with flags — on bicycles, buildings, trucks, trees and almost anything that could hold them. One South Side bank gave out miniature stars-and-stripes to all the neighborhood businesses. The 6100 block of West Eddy Street boasted more than 100 flags.

With the temperature in the low 70s, about a half-million people flocked to the parks and forest preserves. Lincoln Park Zoo was a favored destination. The major museums also reported large attendance.

It was a day of local festivals. In Edgewater a section of Broadway was blocked off for a carnival. In Evanston 25,000 people gathered at Dyche Stadium to watch athletic events and a circus show. Flossmoor and Wheaton had parades, Mundelein an “Independence Day Mardi Gras.” One group of families in Rogers Park staged a Fourth of July musical featuring clowns, dog acts, a magic show, and a brass band.

Patriotic oratory was still in fashion. At a gathering in Edison Park, Congressman Roman Pucinski told 5,000 listeners that Communism was dying, and that the grandchildren of Soviet leader Khrushchev “will grow up in an era of freedom.”

Back downtown, as afternoon moved into evening, there was an aerial display and a concert at Grant Park. The last event of the day was the annual American Legion fireworks show at Soldier Field.

Meanwhile, in the Maxwell Street area, dozens of store windows were blown out by holiday explosives. On the South Side, police arrested three people for selling firecrackers to children.

2012 — Have a happy Fourth of July. And watch out for firecrackers.