NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: Independence Day 1888

COURTESY NIAGARA HISTORY CENTERA patriotic parade on the Big Bridge in Lockport, in the late 19th century.


“The glorious Fourth, with all its noise and bustle, the booming of cannon and firecracker … and the other usual accompaniments, has come and gone. Lockport, thanks to Hydrant Hose company, had a pretty lively celebration.”

This was how the Lockport Daily Journal of July 5, 1888, described the activities of “Our Fourth” the day before.

A procession was held in the morning in Lockport, led by Company D of the Buffalo City Guard and followed by the Hydrant Hose Company, the Sprout Post G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic), the National Cornet Band of the Tuscarora Reservation and the Hydrants’ fife and drum corps. Behind them was a group of entertainers collectively known as the Fantastics, “which elicited plenty of laughter from the crowd.” This troupe was led by Lockport’s own vaudeville comedian, Charlie Case, who sponsored prizes for the best burlesque company ($3), best rig drawn by an animal ($2.50) and funniest individual costume ($1.50).

(A few years earlier, in 1883, the Lockport Daily Journal listed some of the acts the “Fantastics” included in the July 4th parade: The Goodby-Sickle Club, the East Lockport Hydrant Hosiers, the Napoleon Princes Expelled from France, the Field Hospital (Drs. Cleaver, Cut-off and Quinine), and Anarchist Herr Most. The article ended with the statement, “Many grotesque descriptions on banners heralded the coming of the Fantastics.”

It is probably not surprising that in 1890, the same paper remarked that “the absence of the feature of the parade known as the Fantastics was commented upon very favorably.”)

The final division was represented by local businesses and industries. Many were listed but only three were singled out for description: Singer Sewing Machine Company, which had five wagons full of employees; William Hooper’s cigar factory, which had workers making cigars on a large wagon; and Bishop, the cooper, who “had his men busy beading and staving up barrels as they rode along.”

The paper estimated that “fully five to ten thousand people [were] out in the morning on the streets.” After the parade “quite a number went to the Fair Grounds (then located on Washburn Street) to witness the game of ball between the Nationals of Buffalo and the Pastimes [of Lockport].” The Pastimes won the doubleheader (4-2 & 17-2) and one player was hurt when his knee hit the head of a spectator sitting on the grass. The spectator required medical attention by a doctor.

While the baseball game was being played, elsewhere on the Fair Grounds, there were bicycle, foot and wheelbarrow races taking place. The day finished with a fireworks display at an unspecified location, but probably the Fair Grounds as well.

Up in Newfane, things got rather rowdy in Charlotteville, with a “party of roughs … being intoxicated … and using most foul language.” This annoyed some residents and the ruffians “received a dose of rotten eggs that cooled them off.” Meanwhile up in Olcott, “the dances were well patronized.”

The Lockport Daily Journal editorialized against the selling of alcohol by stating that “he who thinks that the selling of spirituous liquors as a beverage is a benefit to mankind should have been with their families at Olcott this Fourth and noticed the peaceful quietness and happy social visits of the scores of private parties under the tall pines and beside the cooling waves — without the use of fire-water.”

Members of the Wilson and Olcott G.A.R. “had a royal time recounting incidents of long ago and enjoying a queenly repast.” Harvey Pease of Wilson won the pie eating contest. One guest had been having such a good time that when it came time to leave he climbed into his carriage before realizing there was no horse hitched to it. Thus ended another Fourth of July celebration in Niagara County.

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Explanation of today's photo: Although undated, it is from 1888-1890. It shows a parade or procession on the Big Bridge where the Lockport Municipal Building now stands. Three of the businesses in the background on Canal Street, Martin’s, Mullany’s and Hogan’s, were on Canal Street in the 1888 Lockport City Directory but not in the 1891 Directory (unfortunately, the 1889 and 1890 directories are missing). This may or may not be the July 4th parade in 1888; it could be 1889 or 1890. There were also G.A.R. processions on Decoration Day (Memorial Day) during those years, so this could be one of those as well.

Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.

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