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1800s-1909: Patriotic & Unhinged Fun

In the early years of Independence Day celebrations, Fullersburg and Hinsdale had very lively Fourth of July days that included shooting of guns, fireworks, an annual baseball game, and some antics and danger, as was common across the country in those days. 

After the Civil War concluded, Fourth of July celebrations became a much bigger deal than before, due to the rise in nationalism. For example, in 1874, “the townspeople assembled at the Depot, then went on foot to Alfred Walker’s grove (Near Elm and Hickory) where Joel Tiffany and the Rev. Cossitt delivered eloquent addresses on the prospects of the nation and the duties of the hour.”[1] This was of course followed by a baseball game between the young men of Brush Hill (Fullersburg) and Hinsdale, which became an annual tradition for a time. 

The celebrations were usually not overseen by the Village and were organized by citizens themselves, so they usually involved a much larger display of firecrackers, ammunition, and more dangerous activities.

It was quite common for people to be injured during Independence Day celebrations, so common in fact, that once The Hinsdale Doings began, they would publish a “list of casualties” after the celebrations were over.

One Independence Day, however, stood out in the memory of old settlers—passed down through oral histories—that of 1875: 

“This particular 4th of July started at 5 a.m. with the booming of a cannon, no one tells who owned it or where it was located, and it was fired intermittently until 9 a.m. that morning when, presumably, the real festivities got under.”[2]


Our Historians and Archivists at the Hinsdale Historical Society believe that the firing of this cannon was done by a well-known “mischief-maker” and Civil War veteran. Regardless of who it was, we are thankful that in this day and age, we are not awoken at 5 am by the sound of Civil War-era cannons.

1898 Celebration

The 1898 Fourth of July was known as the “The grandest Fourth of July Hinsdale witnessed” expressed by Historian Timothy G. Bakken. 

One reason for this was this Fourth of July was the first arranged along "Sane Fourth" principles.[3]

William P. Cortis, a young and "civic-minded" Hinsdale resident campaigned that the Village "eliminate the dangerous practices which had been an integral part of the previous fourth celebration.”[4] Cortis was a director of the Hinsdale Club and got the Club's backing to provide "such a bewildering bunch of activities and displays" that, with luck, no one in Hinsdale would realize the missing cannon, fireworks, and guns. This is the beginning of what would later be known as the "Sane and Safe Movement."

Even without Cortis and the Club, there was more than enough spirit for a lively celebration. The Spanish-American War was just ending and there was an abundance of patriotic sentiment.

Hinsdale's 1898 Fourth of July began with a reading of the Declaration of Independence on the steps of the Hinsdale Club. A large crowd was present, The Doings estimated that 5,000 people were expected from all over the area. There was also a flag raising at Burlington Park, during which a 20-foot silk American banner, "largest in the country," was run up.[5]

There was also a large parade that included sections representing the Potawatomi Native Americans; hayseed cowboys; a bedraggled "Coxey's Army" which was led by William Cortis himself "astride a pathetic workhorse;" a "Holoo Band;" some P. T. Barnum-type critters; four regular bands; and "other vague and mysterious things.”[6]

What is the Sane and Safe Movement?

The Sane and Safe Movement was a nationwide movement that grew out of the frustration of the 4th of July becoming an increasingly dangerous day. Nationwide, the 4th of July celebrations were policed and looked over. Across the country, municipalities began creating policies put in place that banned guns, bombs, firecrackers, fireworks, cannons, and insane actions at the activities. The only fireworks were used by the Village. The movement is still around and has helped keep injuries at a decreased rate.

Common Features of Hinsdale’s 1890-1910 Fourth of July Celebrations

Hinsdale has had a Fourth of July parade since at least 1874, the year after the Village was officially incorporated. In the early years, money was raised by its citizens in a “celebration fund” that was used to buy fireworks, prizes for sports and game competitions, and more.[7]

By the 1890s, continuing from the beginning of the unhinged cannon fire of 1875, the day usually started with the firing of a cannon. Afterwards, as The Doings wrote, the day became an “an all-day fusillade of giant firecrackers and revolver shots by Hinsdale’s youth.”[8] In 1899, The Doings wrote that “with the breaking of dawn the village youth awoke the slumbering suburbanites with cannon and revolvers.”[9] In 1902, it was said that “a midnight parade of fire and drums awakened many light sleeper and the startling reports of revolvers and toy cannons at intervals, kept ever present the consciousness that we were celebrating the glorious Fourth.”[10]

The annual parade began at 9 a.m. In the 1890s, the parade was usually headed by Bacon’s Band. By this time, the parade also included “floats representing our stores, bicyclists with decorated wheels, and as many grotesque figures as the mind of man can originate. Prizes are to be given for the best costume and finest decorated wheel.”[11]

After the parade, there were usually athletic sports including bicycle races, at the fields that were located on Maple and Grant Streets.[12] One major attraction after the parade was the baseball game between competing area teams. At the conclusion of the game, the athletic events and bicycle races occurred.[13] In the afternoon, the common activities were golf and tennis. 

The “grandest” part of the celebration occurred in the evening, usually in the same field or on the corner of Maple and Washington Streets (called “Warren’s Hill”): the fireworks display.[14] The fireworks were bought by the “celebration fund” from Henry J. Pain, who exhibited his fireworks at the Chicago World’s Fair, and set off by “experienced men” from Hinsdale.[15]

1903 Parade Program.

1904-1905: Not Quite Celebrations

The Fourth of July Celebration of 1904 did not quite live up to expectations, however, the young boys of the Village still made up for the lack of excitement:

“There probably never was a Fourth celebrated in Hinsdale so devoid of excitement or discomfort as the one just gone. The day was glorious, not as Independence Day only, but as a splendid specimen of summer weather. A heavy rain the night before had cleared the atmosphere and left a bracing invigoration in the air that stirred one’s blood and aroused a longing to get out into the sunshine and drink in the precious air of life and freedom.

Never were red snapping fire crackers as little in evidence, that product of the celestial empire seemed to be decidedly in disfavor, but the boys fully made up for its absence by incessant firing of blank cartridges. No cowboy on the plains could have appeared more dangerous than these youths, some of them with an abandon formidable to see. However, no serious results have been announced.”[16]


The one public entertainment of the day was ‘The Little Pike’ held by the young women of Grace church in the Hinsdale Club house. 


In 1905, the sentiment continued: “Public indifference is responsible for the absence of a fitting celebration of the Fourth in Hinsdale this year. The gentlemen who sought to raise a subscription for a public display of fireworks succeeded in raising $70, an insufficient amount. The money will be returned to the donators and Hinsdale must be content with a baseball game as its sole amusement.”[17]


But, the following year in 1906 Hinsdale had activities for Fourth of July Gala Day on 30 June. The Doings state the activities for the day as follows: 

“At 9 o’clock the band will give a concert in front of the clubhouse on First street while the parade is forming. At 9:30 the parade, consisting of floats representing business houses of Hinsdale and Fullersburg, comic floats, fire department, bands of Indians, mounted and on foot, wandering Willies, attracted to Hinsdale for the day by the extensive advertising given the event and rounded up by Chief of Police Nicholson, Arabian Knights, importation of colored gentlemen from Sherm Kimbell’s noted North Carolina plantation, and the First Regiment Uniform Rank Knights of Pythias. 

The line of march will be east on First to Park avenue; south on park avenue to Fifth, thence west to Washington; north on Washington to Hickory; west to Lincoln; thence south on Lincoln to the baseball grounds: where the balance of the morning will be devoted to address and various sports. Prizes will be given for catching the greased pig, climbing the greased pole, and for the wheel-barrow and potato races.”[18]


Celebrations Under the Village League

In 1907, the Village League of Hinsdale took over the planning of all Fourth of July public activities.

In 1909, the Fourth of July was in many ways similar to the 1898 celebration, as by this time the Village Board had adopted a resolution that had done away completely with (legal) firecrackers and even fireworks.[19]Besides this change, the day went as it normally did, with the customary reading of the Declaration of Independence from the Hinsdale Club, which was heard by about a thousand people, who had turned out despite the rain.[20] There was a parade, a baseball game, and a Punch and Judy Show as well. Sometime after the parade, the Fire Department’s alarm was rung and within one minute the firemen were hitched and racing down First Street in a mock firefight.[21] In the early afternoon, about 2,000 people gathered at the Hinsdale Clubhouse for a concert by a 25-piece band and later that evening another was given on “Warren Hill,” where the Memorial Building now stands (and where the fireworks used to be shot off from). 


[1] Bakken, Timothy H. 1976. Hinsdale. Hinsdale, Illinois: Timothy H. Bakken, The Doings. 204. 

[2] Bakken 1976, 204. 

[3] Bakken 1976, 204.

[4] Bakken 1976, 204.

[5] Bakken 1976, 205.

[6] Bakken 1976, 205.

[7] Bakken 1976, 205.

[8] Bakken 1976, 205.

[9] “Paraded Through Rain And Mud.” The Doings, 8 July 1899.

[10] “Celebrated The Day.” The Doings, 11 July 1902.

[11] “Hinsdale To Celebrate July 4th.” The Doings, 24 June 1899.

[12] “Hinsdale To Celebrate July 4th.” The Doings, 24 June 1899.

[13] “Ready To Celebrate The Fourth.” The Doings, 1 July 1899.

[14] “Ready To Celebrate The Fourth.” The Doings, 1 July 1899.

[15] “Ready To Celebrate The Fourth.” The Doings, 1 July 1899.

[16] “The Fourth Is Quiet.” The Doings, 8 July 1904.

[17] “Hinsdale’s 4th Celebrations In The Past,” The Doings. 

[18] “Hinsdale’s 4th Celebrations In The Past” Hinsdale Doings.

[19] Bakken 1976, 206.

[20] Bakken 1976, 206.

[21] Bakken 1976, 206.

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