This post is an excerpt from Uncle Jim’s story, Celebrating the 4th of July, published in the New England Homestead, July 1969.
Gone are the good old days of the Fourth of July. If a boy had fifty cents to spend, what a good time he could have! A package of small firecrackers was five cents and the two-inch firecrackers, I think, were three or four for a penny. Then there were the larger ones – up to the ten-inch giants that I think were five cents. If a boy had one of those, he usually left it until the end.
The night before the Fourth, the boys used to pull off all kinds of stunts, but nothing that did any real harm. Some farmer might find his farm wagon with the wheels off and have to hunt for them, or he might go into the barn in the morning and find he had swapped horses with his neighbor, or if he had a white cow or horse, it might be decorated with black stripes. (Black gun powder mixed in vinegar made a wonderful black dye. It didn’t do any harm and after a few rains it would wash off.)
I remember one time, when I was around sixteen (circa 1904), the storekeepers in town had a gum machine fastened outside their stores. You just put a cent in and pushed a button and you got a piece of gum. A friend of mine and I were roaming around and we decided that if we could find some washers the right size, we might have some fun, and also get some gum. This friend’s father had a pail shop and sawmill, so we hunted around and found some washers that worked and we cleaned out every gum machine. Needless to say, the next Fourth, all gum machines were taken in!
But the highlight came Fourth of July day as there was always a parade. Different ones would rig up a float, drawn by one or a pair of horses. One man had goats and a little cart that he would decorate and draw it with a couple of goats. Then when automobiles first came around, two or three might join in the parade. Troy always had a band (and a pretty good band for a small town) lead the parade. After the parade was over there were always sports for the young people – running, jumping, obstacle races, shotput, and sometimes a greased pig to catch. At noon, the Grange people would put on a dinner at the Town Hall and sometimes there might be a dinner at some church. Either place, for fifty cents you could get a good dinner.
A lot of the folks would carry lunch and gather around on the town common to eat. In the afternoon there might be more sports and always a ball game with a team from some other town. In those days every town had a ball team, and some of them were pretty good.
At night, there was a band concert and fireworks. Speaking of band converts, every Saturday night through the summer there was a band concert at the bandstand on the common. Nearly everybody in town used to turn out.