The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

July 2, 2012

Jo Ellis: Carthage has long history of July 4th celebrations

CARTHAGE, Mo. — From fireworks to flag-waving, parades to picnics, bell-ringing and brass bands to beauty contests, Carthage residents have found innumerable and imaginative ways to celebrate July Fourth in grand style.

The holiday marking America’s independence from Britain has had a rich history in Carthage, as recorded in newsprint over the years.

During the period from 1868 to 1872, crowds were excited by demonstrations of hot air balloons ascending into the sky. The celebrations normally were held on the square, with people gathering in Carter Park for basket dinners.

The arrival of the railroad brought in larger crowds, as more people from farther distances were able to attend. In 1875, two trains brought celebrants from Joplin to hear an address from former Gov. Thomas Fletcher. The following year, on the 100th anniversary of Independence Day, the town awoke to the sound of “loud whistles, ringing bells, clashing gongs and cannons.” The crowd numbered around 10,000, including 600 visitors from Springfield.

By 1879, attendance grew to an estimated 20,000. The day was so hot that merchants placed water barrels in front of their stores with dippers and tin cups.

In 1881, the attendance was nearly 40,000, due in part to it being the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. Soldiers were a large part of the parades, which featured elaborately decorated horse-drawn floats and women in beautiful gowns.

Fire companies from area towns competed in timed contests in which they unloaded their trucks and passed all their equipment (except for the tall ladders) over the top of a building. Company members stood on the crown of the roof to receive the crowd’s applause before reloading their trucks.

By 1884, the city had to hire 30 extra policemen to handle the crowd. The committee in charge prohibited the hitching of any teams on the square and adjacent streets.

In 1890, a three-day celebration was marked by horse racing at the Spring River Valley Fair Association, south of Fairview Avenue, and an encampment of Union Army veterans. Gov. David Francis attended and participated in several events.

The completion of the interurban streetcar line linking Joplin, Webb City and Carthage opened up a new way to celebrate July Fourth in 1894. The Lakeside Amusement Park on Center Creek lured many townspeople to spend the holiday swimming, canoeing, dancing and just generally cooling off at the natural water attraction.

Marian Wright Powers, nationally known opera singer from Carthage, reigned as queen of the 1900 parade. That same year, police collected two bushels of revolvers from people who were “firing with millennium exuberance to make noise around the square.”

The following year may have been the pinnacle of excitement in the history of July Fourth celebrations in Carthage. What would have been a normal celebration turned into a melee. The crowd gathered at Chestnut and Garrison, preparing to watch the fireworks. Merchants and others had generously donated the best pyrotechnics available. A stand built of pine lumber was to be the launching pad for the huge store of fireworks stacked behind it.

Volunteers lighting the fireworks had just started when errant sparks ignited fuses in some of the reserve stores. Things began to explode, and the men leaped over the counter. Sky rockets and Roman candles raked the ground. Pin wheels leaped and tumbled, with fire streaming behind them. Bombs shot decorative stars high in the sky. The pine stand was in flames and, needless to say, the crowd fled.

Fireworks projectiles were raining down over a full block when the Carthage Fire Department arrived with horse-drawn firetrucks. After laying down a couple of fire hoses, firemen extinguished the conflagration, with the horses receiving praise for their calmness and bravery in a situation that must have been frightening for them.

July 4, 1913, was another historic celebration, marking the first time a successful airplane flight was demonstrated in Carthage. A Fort Wayne, Ind., pilot flew a Curtis biplane for 17 minutes, circling the square at around 4,000 feet, with the crowd watching in awe.

This year’s celebration will begin at 4 p.m. Wednesday in Municipal Park. Activities include pay-per-play laser tag by Bill’s Extreme Paintball and Laser Tag. Vendors will be selling snow balls, cotton candy and ice cream. The flag ceremony, presented by the Carthage Police Explorers, will be held at sundown, officiated by Mayor Pro Tem Dan Rife.

Kiwanis Kiddieland will be open from 6 to 9 p.m., offering miniature train and car rides and its newly restored carousel. The fireworks display by Liberty Pyrotechnics begins at 9:30 p.m., according to police Capt. Randee Kaiser, event committee chairman.

“Come early to Municipal Park, find your favorite spot and enjoy the afternoon as we celebrate America in our community,” Kaiser said.

Address correspondence to Jo Ellis, c/o The Joplin Globe, Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email

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