Our American Fourth of July has been, throughout our history, a peculiarly gruesome holiday. In years past, the newspapers would exhibit, with a positively ghoulish relish, long lists of casualties across the country, usually resulting from using fireworks with more exuberance than expertise.
Being the sensitive, kindly soul that I am, naturally, while reading these Starred and Striped tragedies, my first thought was, "Blog post!"
Behold, a selection of Independence Day events, Strange Company style:
The "Bryan [TX] Morning Eagle" for July 7, 1907, really got into the spirit of the thing, with no less than three tributes to the recent holiday:
Pittsburg, July 5.--All records for fatalities following the celebration of Independence day were broken this year. Up to 10 o'clock Friday fifteen violent deaths were reported to coroner's office, while the number of injured is three-score. This list of dead, which were compiled from cases reported at the coroner's office and morgues from Wednesday night until Friday morning, includes two alleged murders and one suicide, besides numerous accidental deaths. It is said many of the injured will die.
New York, July 5.--Distressed by the noises of the Fourth of July celebration Mrs. Johanna Everett, a widow, hanged herself from a bedpost in her home at Jersey City. Mrs. Everett suffered from ill health and she complained she could not stand the noise of exploding fireworks.
St. Joseph, Mo., July 5.--Theresa Goodman, aged seven, died in convulsions caused by Fourth of July explosions. She was in a weakened condition as the result of diphtheria, from which she was recovering. The discharge of blank cartridges near a window threw her into convulsions.
This story from the "San Francisco Call" of July 17, 1910 had a happier ending, just leaving the victims sadder and hopefully wiser:
G.M. Cohn was among those who autoed to Reno to witness the tussle between the hopes of the black and white races on the Fourth. Cohn drove his White gasoline car and had a trip replete with unusually interesting experiences. One of these came near being a tragedy, but good fortune and great presence of mind on the part of "Bill" Young converted it into laughable comedy.
On the way to Reno, Cohn and party encountered James Terry, a lumberman of Sacramento and Redding, at Tallac. Terry had chartered a barge and Cohn was persuaded by him to ferry his machine, along with three others, across Tallac lake to Tahoe City on it. The system proved so satisfactory that the four car owners on the way back from Reno all met at Tahoe City, according to prearranged plans to again utilize the barge. In the meantime some members of the party had deserted and in their places several seafaring gentlemen had been welcomed.
According to Cohn it was the Sierra grandeur appealing to their sentiment that enthused all members of the several parties with patriotism.
All four cars were loaded down at Truckee with fireworks and it was decided to advise the inhabitants of Tallac of the barge's approach through a monster display. This was begun somewhere midway across the lake. A few sky rockets opened up activity and then Cohn, to add to the variety of the occasion, started a pin wheel. The sparks flew fast and wild and several settled directly in the tonneau of Cohn's car, where a major part of the explosives were stored. In a moment there was a great burst of flame and sky rockets, pin wheels, Roman candles and every other known make of fireworks were mixing in a grand melee of hisses and sparks.
The seafaring gentlemen, who had theretofore refused to be enthused by the patriotic demonstrations, were cuddled up in sleep in the several cars. The grand finale to the fireworks display, however, awakened them rudely. The northern lights had never shown them anything to equal this fourth of July outburst and consequently all were soon making a wild scramble for safety. One made a wild leap, completely clearing the barge, and landed with a splash in the lake. Two others plunged head foremost through the glass front of the car while the others fled terrified to the remotest corners of the barge.
It was here that "Bill" Young came to the rescue, marshaled the forces and with an extensive experience in fire extinguishing to rely upon soon had the flames under control. But for the damaged upholstering of the tonneau the car was but little the worse off for the experience.
More patriotic mayhem was reported in the "Bendigo Advertiser," August 15, 1908:
New York, 3rd July. A terrible explosion of fireworks, which brought instant death to six young men and one boy, and fearful injuries to a score of others, ushered in America's great national celebration of the Fourth of July. To-morrow is the one day of the year when all Americans go patriotically insane. They spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on pyrotechnic displays, and each year the Fourth of July list of fatalities exceeds the carnage of a first-class battle.
A large firework store in Cleveland (Ohio) was crowded at noon to-day by youthful purchasers, when a number of rockets exploded, setting fire to the entire contents of the shop. A scene of indescribable horror ensued, customers and shop assistants making one wild rush amid a thousand whizzing squibs, roman candles, and catherine wheels in the effort to escape. Many reached the lift in safety: others fled downstairs and reached the street, to find the building a roaring furnace.
But scores were left behind, and so intense was the panic that before the firemen spread their nets people began to jump to the pavements from the second story windows. Outside an immense concourse of frantic parents quickly gathered, impeding the efforts of the brigade, who only after considerable delay succeeded in placing their ladders. Five firemen were seriously injured by the bursting of fireworks. When the conflagration was extinguished seven bodies were discovered in the ruins.
From the London "Evening Telegraph" for July 7, 1909:
New York, Tuesday. Details of further Fourth of July accidents have been received. In Camden, New Jersey, the saddest of the tragedies occurred. A woman and a baby in her arms were killed, the top of a boy's head was blown off, and a man was probably mortally wounded by the explosion of a cannon at a fireworks display attended by 5000 people. Mrs. Anna Hebel, of Camden, and her six weeks-old child were the two killed; Chas. Mullion (17) is the boy fatally injured; and George Hauser, who fired the cannon, was badly hurt. The cannon shooting had been planned as a surprise. It was a three-pounder, with a barrel three feet long and a bore of three inches, and it had been loaded with three pounds of gunpowder. It stood in a roped-off space in front of the crowd, and Mrs. Hebel sat, with hundreds of others, just behind the rope. Mullion sat behind her, and Hauser was standing front of it. Everybody was watching the ascent of the fire balloon when the cannon burst. It threw pieces of iron weighing a pound for half-a-mile. The fete was arranged under the auspices of the Camden Association of Patriots and Loyal Friends of Enterprise.
The practice of firing guns into the air on July 4th, so beloved of celebratory imbeciles, apparently caused this rather puzzling tragedy. From the "Royal Cornwall Gazette" for August 23, 1878:
A very sad tragedy occurred at Avondale, Ohio, on the 4th of July. The Cincinnati Gazette says : — The sad death of Miss Lida Hutton has cast a gloom over the entire village, where she was beloved and respected. She lived with her widowed sister, Mrs. Wells, on Glenwood Avenue, in a handsome cottage at the end of the road. The fourth had been spent pleasantly at home, in a quiet way. About 7 o'clock in the evening Mrs. Wells started with Miss Hutton to go over to Mr. Kellogg's to see the fireworks. As they got to their front door Miss Hutton suggested that it was yet early and they had better sit down until it got darker. Accordingly they sat down on the front porch, Miss Hutton, taking a rocking chair, sat facing Mrs. Wells. Suddenly Miss Hutton threw up her arms and said, "I'm struck!" With that she lowered both arms and commenced to unfasten her dress at the neck. When Mrs. Wells saw her attempt to unfasten her dress she screamed and caught Miss Hutton, supposing she was attacked with heart disease or something of the kind. Many of the neighbours came in and offered their assistance. They removed the body upstairs and laid it on a bed. One of the ladies who had helped to carry it discovered blood on her hand and on examination the wound was found. The ball entered near the shoulder on the back and passed diagonally through to the other side, cutting in its way the heart. There had been several shots fired in the neighbourhood just before the fatal accident, but several persons in the immediate vicinity say that for some moments before Miss Hutton was shot no report was heard, nor, in fact, was the one that killed her heard. The porch stands back some seventy-five feet from the road, and in front of the house is a large lawn. No one was in the immediate vicinity, and the only theory is that the fatal shot came from a rifle in the hands of some reckless person, at present unknown.— New York Herald.
The "San Francisco Call" for June 28, 1904, did a good deal of tutting about it all:
Philadelphia. June 27.--Dr. Benjamin Lee, secretary of the Board of Health, has sent to the authorities of every town in the State statistics intended as a warning against the use of the toy pistol.
It is asserted that on the last Fourth of July there were sacrificed "on the altar of a lawless and spurious patriotism" a greater number of victims than have been slain in any of the battles in the Far East or than were drowned or burned in the Slocum tragedy in the harbor of New York.
The total number of casualties in the United States on July 4, 1903, was 4249.
More holiday cheer from the "Aberdeen Journal," July 6, 1927:
New York, Tuesday. Hundreds of thousands who deserted New York for the country over the Fourth of July Holiday, began arriving this morning by train and motor car from all parts of the country. The usual number of casualties are reported a result fireworks, and altogether nearly persons, mostly children, have died in consequence of burns and other injuries directly traceable to ubiquitous fire-crackers. More than a hundred were injured in Washington alone, while at Milwaukee 1200 persons were arrested by the police for violation of the city regulations governing the use of fireworks. In the forest reserve near Des Plaines, Illinois, a premature explosion of a rocket set off a huge pile of fireworks, and some children were injured by being trampled upon in the general stampede to flee from the rain of fire. At the Westchester Baltimore Country Club, near New York, where nearly 600 people were dining on the Terrace, a large box of fireworks under one of the tables suddenly went off, and the hissing rockets and spluttering crackers, which flew in all directions among the assembled diners, provided a distinctly original contribution to the evening's amusement.
Fireworks aren't the only danger. On the Fourth of July, not even hot-air balloons are safe. From the "Illustrated Police News," July 16, 1892:
A balloon ascent which took place at Boston in connection with the festivities on the occasion of Independence Day had a fatal termination, two persons being killed outright and a third seriously injured. The balloon, after ascending to a considerable altitude, rapidly went in the direction of the sea, whereupon Mr. Rogers, who was in charge, attempted to open the valve. In doing so, however, he made a rent in the silk, thus permitting the gas to escape, and causing the balloon to descend with terrific velocity. It finally struck the water, and collapsed. Mr. Rogers was almost instantly killed, and sank immediately, and his assistant, Mr. Fenton, was so badly injured that he died before he could be conveyed to the city by a tug, which happened to be in the vicinity when the balloon fell. Mr. Goldsmith, a reporter, sustained a severe shock and inhaled a quantity of gas, and is now in hospital. The other passengers were rescued by the tug.
|via British Newspaper Archive|
From "Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper," July 13, 1890:
Saginaw, Michigan. Saturday.-The Kinney hotel in this city was set on fire yesterday during the firework display of the fourth of July celebration., A package of fire-crackers exploded in the bedroom occupied by James Henham, 28 years old, a guest, who had registered as coming from Montreal. The fire spread so rapidly that Henham was burned to death, and four other persons who were in adjoining rooms were severely injured while escaping from the flames. The loss is estimated at over thirty-five thousand dollars.
Of course, some people don't need fireworks to be a menace to everyone around them. Some do it with the ordinary methods appropriate for any day of the year. From the "San Francisco Call" for July 6, 1902:
Catlettsburg, Ky., July 5.--Jesse Rule, a retired merchant of this city, was stabbed and killed at a Fourth of July celebration here yesterday. Frederick Burnhett has been arrested, charged with the murder.
Even my beloved felines can't resist getting into the blood-soaked spirit of the thing. Here's a quite dreadful anecdote from the "Sacred Heart Review," July 7, 1918:
OUR FUTURE MEN AND WOMEN.
A SAD STORY.
July 6, 1918. Dear Uncle Jack: Here is a true bird-story that I wrote. It was our cat that brought in the robin, and my brother and I spent a lot of time trying to bring it around. If you print the story, it may keep some bad boy from stoning trees to bring down nests. Very respectfully yours, Margaret E. B----. Please don't give my name or where I live because some one might kill Melba—our cat.
Uncle Jack is much pleased to print Margaret's story, but he does not think that any bad boys read this page. It will do us all good, big and little, to read about these kind bird friends that Margaret and her brother know. Many thanks, little niece, and write again to Uncle Jack.
A Fourth of July Tragedy.
It was after supper. Joseph and I were in the dining room just by ourselves, when Melba ran in with the dearest little robin in her mouth. Melba is our cat, and we call her Melba because she has such a pleasant purr. But she is perfectly horrid about birds, and has had her eye on the nest in the big maple ever since it was built there. She didn't get a chance at them in the daytime, and we kept her in evenings, except on the Fourth. Joseph said it was a mean way for her to keep such a day.
He took her by the back of the neck and she let Robbie go. He squawked a bit and trembled something dreadful, but Joseph put Melba in the cellar, and after a while the little fellow seemed to be better. He couldn't fly though, so we fixed a little bed for him, on the window-sill next the screen. The next morning he could hop along the sill, and after a while we heard great twittering, and there on the chimney next house was the mother robin, chirping and looking everywhere. Robbie got close to the screen and chirped back, and his mother flew down to the tree, looked him all over, and went away. In a few minutes she came back with the father bird and a white moth in her mouth for Robbie. If we drew the screen, he would fall to the ground, so we put him in Patsy's cage and took out the screen. Patsy was our canary. He's dead. We thought the mother would feed him through the bars, and she tried, but got afraid of folks, and went away again. The next time she had a grey moth, and at last she brought a worm. Still, she couldn't get it in the cage; and though we brought worms and other things, poor Robbie wouldn't eat. I guess Melba squeezed his throat, or maybe he got discouraged, for he died after all our work to save him. We even put him in a big basket, and tied the basket to the tree, but when we looked again he was lying on his back with his little claws in the air. His parents knew he was dead for they never came to the window after that. We buried Robbie under an orange lily that is in bloom, and we put a stone over him, so that Melba couldn't scratch him up. How sad that on the day of liberty an American cat should take the life of a fellow-being!
In all seriousness, I hope everyone celebrates the holiday this weekend in a festive, but prudent manner. After all, you don't want to risk being featured in my 2015 Independence Day post, do you?