An American Holiday
SOME six years ago a New England city awoke to the fact that the great national holiday, July Fourth, because of the unrestrained and excessive use of fireworks and explosives and accompanying acts of hoodlumism, had become a menace to life and property and a positive public evil. The citizens of this town, Springfield, Massachusetts, with the local initiative so characteristic of the Bay State, thereupon began to devise ways and means of organizing a community celebration devoid of objectionable features. A representative committee was selected to plan for a day of popular recreation and entertainment.
While the initial impulse was the wish to do away with noise, danger, and riot, the committee soon came to see a large opportunity in the enlistment of the energy and ingenuity of all elements of the population in making the day a true civic festival, and in shaping the events to uplift and widen the aspirations of the people. With this ideal as a guide, JulyFourth has taken on a new meaning, and is now a factor of no small importance in promoting a vigorous and progressive community spirit.
In a large way, the policy of the Independence Day Committee has been twofold : gradually to restrict the indiscriminate use of fireworks and explosives; and to provide, under definite control, extensive and varied entertainment.
The programme followed last year embodied the results of many experiments and much experience, and by its success and influence showed that Springfield had found a way of making our chief American holiday an occasion of real significance. At nine o’clock in the morning the two principal streets were lined with spectators of the civic and military parade.
A truly festival aspect pervaded the entire town. Business blocks and private houses were gay with colors and bunting, and at certain selected centres local decoration and illumination committees were busy hanging lanterns and otherwise preparing for the displays of the evening. The procession well befitted such a setting. It was one of the most notable and significant parades in the history of the city. In accordance with the thought of the organizers of the day’s celebration, the long column represented many elements of the population, and constituted an object-lesson in the value of human liberty and the meaning of American citizenship.
There were the usual features of the police detail to lead the way; the local militia and naval reserve; and by courtesy of Colonel W. F. Cody (“ Buffalo Bill ”) the most interesting groups of his “ Wild West Show,” a picturesque setting forth of the life of the Plains and Frontier and of the armies of foreign countries. But three divisions of the parade were especially noteworthy. First of these was a battalion of nearly one thousand boys, of ages from ten to fourteen, organized in companies, one for each ward, and arrayed in special uniforms of khaki, red, white, and blue, and other picturesque colors, and armed with wooden guns. They marched sturdily over the entire route, despite the drizzling rain that for the first quarter of an hour gave some discomfort to spectators and participants.
In another section were floats made up by the grammar-school children as a pageant illustrative of local and national history. Such scenes as an Indian village, a group of Puritan maidens, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and Washington crossing the Delaware, were presented in a way that showed careful study of costumes, persons, and situations on the part of the actors, and made real the stirring events of colonial and revolutionary times to the people who looked on.
Most impressive and significant was the contribution of the various races and nationalities that help make up the citizenship of Springfield. In a population of 80,000, representatives of thirteen peoples were found who by their interest, enthusiasm, and public spirit furnished the climax of the parade. Three great divisions of the human family appeared in this pageant of the nations; in the ranks were the offspring of four continents, Europe, Asia, Africa, America. Chinamen, Ethiopians, English, Scotch, Irish, French, Germans, Italians, Greeks, Swedes, Poles, Armenians, and Syrians strove, in cordial emulation, to show the characteristic qualities of each people, and the contribution each was making to American life.
Sweden presented a Viking ship, true to the smallest detail, with Leif Ericsson catching his first glimpse of this continent. Mary Queen of Scots, in all the splendor and romance of her court, with maids of honor and Highland chiefs, and heralded by two pipers, was the contribution of the land of Wallace, Bruce, and Prince Charlie. Two floats were provided by the German societies: the Schützenverein showed a fine scene from the life of William Tell, while the Maennerchor and Turnverein, in thorough Teutonic fashion, had an allegorical group, the figures of Germania and Columbia, attended by Art, Literature, and Music. With a view to the three hundredth anniversary of the founding of Quebec, the French, who are of Canadian descent, portrayed Champlain landing from his canoe on the St. Lawrence. A band of Chinese musicians came on from New York to represent their nation, while in addition their resident countrymen furnished a richly decorated oriental float for the parade, and in the evening a display of Chinese fireworks. Italy made a most effective and artistic group of her great men, Dante, Michelangelo, Galileo, Columbus, Verdi, and Marconi, with heralds and pages in advance, the whole like a scene out of some Florentine spectacle of the times of the Medici. After the same fashion, the local Greeks presented four figures, Pericles, Lycurgus, Socrates, and Plato, attended by a marching battalion of fifty young Hellenes, each carrying his country’s banner, and all uniting in bearing along a huge American flag. Armenia recalled her early glories as an independent nation in a rich setting of the throne and court of Abgar, her first Christian king. A conference in an eastern smoking-room was presented with great realism as the contribution of the Syrians. Lovers of the Celtic and Gaelic found satisfaction in the setting of St. Columcille pleading for the Bards before King Aodh, monarch of all Ireland, in the year 590. Negro veterans of the Civil War brought in a touch of American history in their presentation of the attack on Battery Wagner, when the colored race, under the leadership of Robert Gould Shaw, proved for all time its title to manhood. Poland had in line a battalion, forty-five strong, accompanied by a Polish band.
There was a singular fitness and deep meaning in the English float: the signing of Magna Charta, a document that in the struggle for human liberty must forever be placed alongside the Declaration of Independence, even as the flags of England and America were entwined over the scene in the pageant. Much to their regret, the Jewish people were unable to take part in this festival of humanity from the fact of the day being their Sabbath. They are enthusiastic in their plans for next year.
The impression and value of this pageant of the nations is well stated by Mary Vida Clark in “ Charities and Commons: ” —
“ Surely no citizen of Springfield, young or old, could see such a historic pageant of races and nationalities without gaining some appreciation of the nature of the modern contribution to our national life, or could escape having his outlook broadened by some glimpse of the America of the future that is to come out of this mingling of races and race-ideals, or could fail to see the great possibilities for improvement in the amalgamation of many of these people bringing traditions of such beauty and nobility.
“ It is no small benefit to us, and to these newer fellow citizens of ours, that they should have a chance to exhibit their heroic side, to show us their nationality as it looks to them, rather than as it is caricatured by our provincialism. It does the intolerant young American no harm to be reminded that the ancestors of his Greek and Italian schoolmates may have dwelt in marble halls, while his were naked savages, roaming the woods, even though he has a personal preference for the naked savage. Such a Fourth of July carries to the whole community the message that the settlements, with their industrial exhibits and their revivals of the classical dramas, have so long been dinning into the ears of those ‘ who have ears to hear.’ ”
As the parade returned to Court Square, the civic centre, the people were assembling for the next numbers on the programme, — choral singing, and literary exercises. Three bands were massed, and with this accompaniment, under the leadership of a prominent musical director, the multitude joined in full-throated chorus in rendering national hymns and folk-songs. A selection of such music had been printed and five thousand copies distributed. The result was a revelation of the possibilities of this form of expression of sentiment and emotion. Then came a scholarly and forceful address on the responsibility of the people in the solution of our national problems, by a talented young son of Springfield.
Meanwhile, a short distance away, two balloons were in preparation for an ascension. At the close of the speaking came more singing, and as the first balloon rose into the air, the great throng burst forth, as with one voice, into the strains of “ My Country’t is of Thee.” Thus the morning exercises came to a fitting close and climax as the cannon from the Arsenal thundered out the national salute of forty-six guns.
In the afternoon the scene of the celebration shifted to the open glades of Forest Park. Family groups resorted to this pleasant woodland to enjoy picnics and the band music. The Park extends to the Connecticut River, and its slopes leading down to that stream made a convenient view-point for those who were interested in the regatta and water-sports. The children, whose natural instincts lead them to play on such occasions, were organized for the time in a series of charming games from which the participants carried off as souvenirs small American flags.
Athletic contests on track and field, and the river-sports, with a great variety of races for many kinds of craft, occupied the attention of youth and young men. By this distribution of events, people were widely scattered, and a congestion of street-car traffic prevented.
As evening drew on, the city became a veritable fairyland, so general and skillful was the illumination. Four centres were selected for the display of fireworks, and each given in care of a local committee. Myriads of Japanese lanterns lined the approaches to these open spaces. Main Street was aglow with vari-colored lights, and while the last rockets and bombs were flashing in the sky, a wearied, but satisfied and happy community turned homeward for rest and slumber.
Such is Springfield’s realization of a community festival. Her general committee, which has the entire programme is charge, is continued from year to year, and has always been able to command the interested services of capable business and professional men. Many hours are given to planning and organizing the celebration. A popular subscription places at the disposal of the committee about $3000, and the city council usually makes an appropriation of $500. This fund meets the expenses of parade, bands, balloon ascension, choral singing, literary exercises, sports, games, fireworks, and the illumination of Main Street and Court Square. Private expenditures for decoration, and special displays, largely increase the total amount spent. Many of the participants in the parade of nations met their own expenses.
Public interest was enlisted by a thorough use of the news columns for the two months before the day. The papers were most generous in the space and attention they gave to all items about the plans for the celebration. A few days before the Fourth a complete detailed programme was distributed to every home in the city. It is safe to say that by the morning of Independence Day every man, woman, and child was familiar with the order of events. This widespread interest and general participation contributed largely to the success of the festival.
While the riot of noise and explosion has not yet ceased, there has been a sensible decrease in the disposition to make July Fourth a day of license. Restrictive measures are now more rigid, and are better enforced. This year accidents were few and not serious, and the fire department had practically an idle day. The small boy was busy with his preparations for the parade, and in enjoying the various attractions provided by the committee. Wholesome and delightful entertainment was so general that the mischiefmaker had small opportunity, and little time. Most important of all, however, is the growing conviction and sentiment of the community that the proper celebration of a national holiday is one where a festal spirit dominates and controls.
It is evident from the comments of the press on the present evils of our Fourth of July that there is urgent need of a definite control and wise direction of the
popular use of this holiday. The roll of dead and wounded for the last ten years, as compiled by the Chicago Tribune, is eloquent in its warning. The figures tell their own story of an insensate and reckless abuse of the day’s privileges:
That these statistics, gathered by July 6, are below the real totals is seen from the tabulations of the Journal of the American Medical Association made in August, when tetanus has had time to do its dire work: —
Surely the sorrow, suffering, and mutilation here represented mock the claim that our July Fourth, as at present observed, is in any sense a festal day; rather is it a day of terror, anxiety, and dread. High-power explosives, unknown a generation ago, are put into the hands of irresponsible children, and of brutal and careless rowdies, to use without let or hindrance. The ordinary safeguards against danger to life, and damage to property, are withdrawn. Such a state of affairs reveals a serious weakness in our social organization, since our communities do not know how to enjoy themselves in sane and rational fashion. Here is a field for educating the people, rich in possibilities of far-reaching results on our national characteristics.
From many cities there come protests and warnings against present conditions, and the expression of a desire for better things. Cleveland, through her city council, has prohibited all use of fireworks and explosives by individuals. The New York Tribune, in its comments on the action of Cleveland, says, “ In a land which has not yet learned to celebrate its memories fittingly, tetanus is only one of the many arguments for the Springfield example.” Mere repression will, in the long run, not be effective. It is necessary to recognize and satisfy the natural instinct of men for spectacles and pleasurable excitement. Let the resources of music, beauty in form and color, oratory, athletic contests, games and plays, and stately pageantry with wealth of historic allusion, be used with judgment and good taste to make a popular festival!
For it must be recognized that the present frenzy for noise, explosives, and unearthly din and rattle is an attempt to express, in superficial fashion, emotions in themselves most desirable. The spirit of Independence Day, while it has much that is crude and shallow, is, in essence, joy in liberty, sympathy with the struggles of humanity for freedom, and aspiration for world-wide brotherhood. But as the child and savage, in times of excitement and emotional exaltation, resort to gaudy colors, hideous decorations, shrieks and howls, and the squeak, rattle, and din of instruments, called musical only by courtesy, so our people, in the mass, have yet to learn how to express adequately, and with good taste, patriotic fervor and enthusiasm for humanity. It is also a well-known psychological law that, as the art of expression is cultivated, the feelings grow fine, deep, rich, and true.
Europe abounds in illustrations of public holidays that are truly festal. The art of celebration has been studied and practiced there for many generations, and has gathered to itself the resources of drama, music, legend, history, the sanctity of religious ceremonial, and the dignity of devotion to the fatherland. How simply, and yet effectively, do the Swiss recall the foundation of their Confederation! At the close of day the bells peal out on the evening air, while bonfires flame along the mountain crests. A few fireworks, an inexpensive illumination here and there, with perhaps a few words from some speaker on national history and duty, complete the programme. In the summer of 1905, all Belgium, for over one month, was in festival attire on the anniversary of her independence. Street processions, illuminations by night, bunting and banners by day, children’s parades, outings in the country, and a great exposition at Liège, were some of the features of this season of rejoicing. At Brussels great crowds gathered at evening, in the square before the Hôtel de Ville, to listen to music, and to watch a marvelous display of colored fires on the façade and in the richly sculptured tower of that building.
An Italian immigrant, a native of a small town on the Riviera, told the writer with great enthusiasm of the care with which their popular celebrations were planned. A committee had the entire affair in charge. In the evening, fireworks were set off, at a specially selected point of vantage, so as to secure a multifold reflection in the waters of the Mediterranean. Here is certainly an improvement on the promiscuous discharge of rockets, Roman candles, bombs, and other pyrotechnics, in our American cities.
The skill of French and Germans in organizing and executing elaborate and satisfying programmes on national fest days is too well-known to call for more than a mention. In England, at present, there is a strong tendency toward the use of pageantry. This particular form of display met with conspicuous success at the exercises commemorating the three hundredth anniversary of the founding of Quebec. The Welsh make much of choral singing, and at their annual Eisteddfodd use with effect the ritual of Druidic worship.
American communities may well begin the campaign for a better July Fourth by the introduction of some features of European festal days. Springfield has found that her citizens of foreign birth are ready to cooperate, and thus the very spirit of the Old World may be felt here on the soil of the New. Pageantry is a most promising departure, and affords a good ground for common effort. There are two methods for such a display, one the procession of floats through the streets, the other a series of tableaux presented on some woodland glade as a stage. Boston proposes at her next Fourth of July to use the great Stadium at Harvard for a representation of colonial and revolutionary times. The use of public parks as forest theatres has this advantage: that people are there brought into a restful and invigorating environment, safe for children, and giving genuine recreation to the adult. Hartford made a notable success of historical tableaux at the dedication of her bridge in October, 1908. At college commencements, much is made of the outdoor drama. Mount Holyoke, Wellesley, and Vassar have won distinction in this field.
The street parade, on the other hand, brings the spectacle before a greater number of people than could be accommodated in any sylvan amphitheatre, and affords opportunity for martial music, and the display of banners, colors, and decorations along the line of march. Then there is a certain stately impressiveness in the steady onward motion of a procession, and this makes its own appeal to the senses and emotions. Possibly a combination of tableaux and parade may prove the most available form of pageantry in holiday celebrations.
Music, instrumental and vocal, including that of chiming bells, is a mode of expressing feeling and aspiration to which careful attention should be paid. Our bands and orchestras are winning distinction, and the quality shows steady improvement. Our smaller towns and cities do not, as yet, enjoy such excellent music as is heard in the gardens and public squares of Germany from regimental players. But there is abundant material whereby concerts can be given at important centres in any community, and such an element promotes a festival spirit. As for chimes to make articulate the voice of the city, one has but to recall the thrill of emotion and the myriad memories stirred into life by the pealing bells of London, Paris, Rome, or Edinburgh on some fête-day, or the wondrous dreams evoked at eventide by the melodies from the Court of Honor at Chicago.
They sound so grand on
The pleasant waters
Of the River Lee.
Here is the opportunity for the publicminded man to erect a memorial that will truly enrich his city by making its very air vibrant with joy.
Another large field for development is that of choral or mass-singing. On special occasions, particularly in religious meetings, a multitude of people will sing with zest and enthusiasm. In public gatherings in the open air, it is rare to find any disposition or ability to join effectively in the rendering of patriotic songs and hymns. This failure results from lack of training and practice, with consequent timidity, the poverty of suitable music of high grade, and ignorance of the selections already at our command. It is doubtful if any general gathering could sing all the stanzas of “ My Country, ’t is of Thee,” or of “ The Star-Spangled Banner.” Churches, schools, singing societies, and fraternal organizations may, bv persistent effort, soon bring it to pass that young and old shall be familiar with the best festival lyrics, and ten or twenty thousand people be able to unite in fullthroated chorus. Meantime our poets and composers may well concern themselves with increasing the number of our national songs comparable in quality with those of the old-world peoples. Such mass-singing, under skillful conductors, reveals by contrast the true hideousness and savagery of the din and uproar of blank cartridge and cannon-cracker. For the choral comes out of the deep experiences of humanity; it is an expression of struggle, hope, and triumph, of the fervor of enthusiasm, the glow of patriotic ardor, and the aspirations of religion : a hymn of prayer and praise.
The element of instruction must also be considered in the plans for a day of such significance as July Fourth. It is highly fitting that the thoughts of the people should be turned, in serious mood, on the great deeds of the fathers and the present duties of the sons. An oration by some one who understands the art of addressing a multitude in the open air gives dignity and weight to a festival. This part of the programme should not be long or labored. It should be suggestive and stimulating to thought rather than didactic; an appeal to face resolutely and intelligently the pressing problems of national life.
When these substantial and essential features of the celebration are provided, there is still large room for the skillful selection of recreation and entertainment suited to the particular community. In some instances athletic contests meet the popular demand. Advantage should be taken of natural features, hills, open parks, and river and lake shores. Fireworks can be made many times more effective by placing them on some vantage point and securing a background of wood or water. Automobile parades, exhibition of local industries, pageantry to show the progress of arts and sciences, or of education, may be cited as illustrations of possibilities.
While the holiday has its chief reason for existence in the desire for enjoyment and entertainment, and a relief from the monotony of daily toil, there are certain practical values worthy of attention. The mood of the populace on a properly ordered holiday constitutes a psychological opportunity. Impressions are easily made, and ideas readily become part of the consciousness of the individual. It is as if the glow of enthusiasm and the ardor of excitement fuse the day’s experience and instruction into the mental make-up of the participants. Receptive attention is most alert. Emotion and sentiment are strong and keen. Educationally, Independence Day is an opportunity for promoting that general intelligence, that right attitude toward public questions, and that abiding patriotism and loyalty, on which the nation depends for existence. Likewise, such a day helps to stimulate and foster a just pride in the city or town; no stronger influence can be used to raise the level of community life.
The very union of people of all occupations, interests, and aptitudes in such an undertaking is in itself a means of education. With the growth of cities, concerted organized effort by the inhabitants of such places as Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, New York, has become almost impossible. It is hard to secure any feeling of unity. By proper organization and planning, a celebration such as outlined will interest and occupy all elements of a city; and to work together in such an undertaking is a lesson in coöperation and regard for the common weal that carries far-reaching results.
Such union and amalgamation is especially important as affecting the many alien elements brought in by immigration. With all that has been said of the extent to which our population is made up of foreign-born, one still runs against statistics that startle. Lowell in the state of Massachusetts has a colony of Greeks numbering about seven thousand. There are two thousand in Boston and two hundred in Springfield. In New York City, representatives of well-nigh every people under heaven are to be found. These aliens are in the course of time to become members of our body, politic and social. They are eager to play their part. July Fourth, Independence Day, may well be a festival of humanity, whereon there shall be symbolized the spirit of American life, and the rich elements that life may secure from those who bring the legends, traditions, and history of a thousand years to our shores.
The Springfield pageant, small as it was, revealed potent elements pregnant with human experience, hallowed by memories of struggle, defeat, and triumphs that are to become a part of our own national life and character. The vision of the seer of old is made real in our eyes, “ and they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.” New England especially may well rejoice in the enrichment to come to her through the warmth of feeling, and skill in the use of form and color brought to her from across the sea.
As a people, we are in the making, plastic, responsive, receptive. Such a spirit will take the best among all the influences that bear upon it. Our civilization is in a “ nascent state,” with its power of affinity at its strongest, and its capacity for assimilation most vigorous. Such occasions as the popular festival of Independence Day constitute a rare opportunity to minister to the multitude, and rightly to shape and fashion our characteristics as a people. No more inspiring or ennobling call ever came to mankind.