The United States has 240 years of experience celebrating the Fourth of July, and it’s hard to do ANYTHING that long without getting some good stories in the process, especially the way the good ol’ U S of A does it.
Former President John Adams wrote in his diary that the Fourth “ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other.”
Five states banned fireworks this year due to drought concerns; Delaware, Massachusetts, and New Jersey have longstanding bans of fireworks. Luckily, for people in other states, the privilege to carry on the tradition of exploding things is preserved.
Here are four incredible ways Americans celebrated the Fourth of July:
4. Early Americans took to the streets with rowdy parties in the years immediately following the war
By 1903, Fourth of July celebrations claimed 400 lives with over 4,000 injures, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. A large majority of those recorded injuries came from children playing with guns filled with blank cartridges.
Heavy drinking and explosions were a hallmark of early celebrations; in 1778, General George Washington issued double rations of rum for his troops, and mandated that all cannons be shot throughout the celebrations.
One tradition in New England involved lighting a wooden barrel filled with tar on fire and rolling it through the streets. The evening before the Fourth became known for rowdy drunken parties. Effigies of politicians were burnt during these parties, and the night usually ended with widespread looting.
3. Massachusetts celebrated with 130-foot-tall bonfires
In response to the Journal of the American Medial Association report in 1903, cities in Massachusetts decided to create a unified planned bonfire that would allow officials to better control the general public.
An old tradition known to Salem, Mass., started with giant bonfires on Gallows Hill. After the Gunpowder Plot in England perpetrated by Guy Fawkes, the huge bonfire was moved to November. The yearly ceremony allowed the public to quietly act out its aggressions against the Catholic Church with limited damage.
By 1912, the yearly event had been largely established on the night of July 3rd to “announce the night was turned into the morning of a new year of Liberty.” The first bonfire had a showing of only 3,000 people, but by 1929, the official bonfire was 130 feet high, consisting of 80,000 wooden barrels willed with hogsheads, and over 200,000 people came to watch the giant fire consume the countryside.
2. People in the western frontier used dynamite. Lots of dynamite
“(The Fourth of July Celebration) made them feel a part of the new nation,” James Heintze, a Fourth of July Historian, told The Associated Press in 2003. “They usually didn’t have fireworks, so they used the explosives they did have.”
In 1884, local leaders of a of a small mining community called Swan City, Colo., decided to deny local miners the use of dynamite in their festivities. The miners drunkenly broke into the supplies, and stole the dynamite they needed to blow up a Post Office in their protest.
The mayor of Colorado Springs issued a warning against citizens using dynamite in the streets in 1903.
1. Crowds went to see horses diving off of 60-foot-high platforms
Running almost 100 years from 1881 to 1970, public horse diving was a very popular Fourth of July celebration.
The tradition was most popular in Atlantic City, where a 60 foot high platform was constructed to force a horse to jump into a waiting pool of water below.
People in America have a long history of doing crazy things in the name of the celebration of their country. Be safe, but most of all, have fun out there!
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