Fourth of July, 1921

Springfield residents celebrated the Fourth of July 100 years ago with picnics, sports and reenactment of the World War I battle of Chateau Thierry. There was no single community fireworks show, but a showy sunset, caused by a dust and rain storm, capped the day.

Heat dominated most of the day, with a high of 96 degrees before winds picked up about 5 p.m. The Illinois State Journal waxed poetic:

Minus collars, coats and hats, the entire species Springfieldian, as the textbooks might call them, sought the shadows, nooks and corners of the city that had eluded the sun’s rays. Parks, bathing beaches, baseball diamonds, golf links, open roads and back porches were the havens sought by the panting celebrators.

Everybody went somewhere, and that somewhere in most cases was the shadiest place they could find.

In the parks there was standing room only, and most of that was occupied. Bunn, Washington, Lincoln, Bergen – all of the city’s parks were hosts to giant throngs of holiday celebrating, pleasure seeking humanity.

The bathing beach (at Bunn Park), likewise, was a much sought place, with the result that sunburns aplenty will be visible – and invisible – today.

The heat even buckled at least one paved road.

Motorists on the Chatham hard road near Cotton Hill found that the bricks in the center of the road had succumbed to the heat. For a space of about twenty feet about four miles south of the city the bricks were bulging out of the strip. Motorists passing by picked up the loosened bricks and threw them to one side to prevent accidents.

The American Legion put on the Chateau Thierry reenactment. (The Battle of Chateau Thierry, fought May 31, 1918, was one of the first engagements for U.S. troops in WWI.) The price of admission was 50 cents, which included a 10 percent federal “war tax”.

All of the horrors of a summer campaign, with its excessive heat, offered the biggest lure of the day and led a monster crowd to the fairgrounds to watch the battle of Chateau Thierry reenacted by American Legion members. Starting at 10 o’clock in the morning, the crowd found something doing every minute to make the day a real celebration.

Races, water fights and other contests kept the throng amused and entertained until the sham battle at 4 o’clock. This closed the day’s program and sent the audience home ready to spend the night at their own fireworks displays.

The Legion’s women’s auxiliary threw a separate party for about 30 disabled veterans at the Homestead, a tuberculosis treatment home at 205 W. Miller St. In addition to the TB victims at the Homestead, ill or injured veterans were brought by car from St. John’s Hospital, Springfield Hospital and the Open Air Colony. They also had their own fireworks show.

Nature provided its own fireworks as wind and dust struck the area about 5 p.m., followed by a brief, intense rain.

After leaving the city panting and gaspingly seeking shady nooks and refreshing drinks, the weather man relented and turned on his own fireworks. Starting about 5 ‘o’clock he hurled a dust storm over the city as a smoke screen for his advancing rain.

The dust and wind sent tree limbs flying earthward, turned auto tops inside out and tore them from the cars; shot hats in all directions and made the celebrators seek the nearest places of shelter. But its greatest achievement was its attack upon the sky, which left the southwestern horizon decorated in a beautiful pink. These dust particles, hurled upwards by the wind were responsible for the phenomenon, weather bureau officials stated last night. …

After it was all over and the city had settled back to enjoy its evening of fireworks, cooler and more comfortable, the weather bureau officials brought the cheering news that today will be cooler with possible thundershowers.

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