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Today local historian Dana Beck takes you back -- and tells how Indepdence Day was celebrated through the years

COURTESY OF ENA AND JOANNE CARLSON - The Eastmoreland Fourth of July parade, established in 1994, has included everything from horses, police motorcycles, and Rose Festival Royalty, to clowns, and even bagpipers - as shown here in 2001. But this event is dedicated mainly to kids and bicycle riders.  Independence Day is one of America's biggest celebrations. Across the country, in towns and neighborhoods, millions of people on that day once again this year will be stoking the coals in their barbecue, watching parades, and waiting to see the fireworks that honor this holiday.

Personally, I love a good parade, and there's no better place to find one than in one of Oregon's many small towns scattered about the state. If you like farm equipment, then you might want to stop by Hillsboro's annual Fourth of July parade and look over 100 vintage and old-time tractors. In the tiny community of Cloverdale, south of Tillamook, spectators are entertained by the dancing horses of the local Latino Horse Riding team. And one of my own personal all-time favorite observances has been the antique biplanes of Hood River, circling around the Columbia River Gorge with Mt. Adams in the background, each plane swooping down to do a pass over the parade below three times.

Americans have celebrated the Fourth of July since 1776, each in their own unique way. Returning to Portland specifically, and even more specifically Southeast Portland, here's a trip through time to see how Oregonians have celebrated one of the most important days in American history.

In 1861, the Declaration of Independence was not yet even a hundred years old, and Portland was still basically a rough pioneer town. Working conditions were often harsh, and men and women typically worked ten to twelve hours a day — often seven days a week. There was little time to relax and enjoy life's pleasures. Most Oregonians were probably too tired to be celebrating much of anything at the end of a very long day's work — but when it came to honoring Independence Day, that was still a momentous occasion, and they celebrated with what energy they could muster.

That's why, in 1861, some 8,000 people — that was most of the town, in those days — turned out in the streets of downtown Portland to celebrate Independence Day. The holiday was filled with patriotic speeches by politicians, many of whom voiced concerns about the Civil War already raging in the east; and a feature of such celebrations was often the public reading of the Declaration of Independence by a local orator. But once the speeches were done, it was time for the fun to begin. Racing horses and betting were popular pastimes in the 1860s, and the crowds adjourned to the local Country Club Race Track, where the horse racing was getting underway. Other activities during the day included tossing horse shoes, and competing in foot races. Foot races were for all ages — young boys to portly men; and flour sack races, and even egg races for the girls — were staged throughout the day.

Time passed. By 1910, automobiles and motorcycles had become a fascination for many Americans, as had been the introduction of electric lights -- but few people could afford to own a vehicle yet, and most Oregonians were still using kerosene lamps and candles for nighttime activities at home.

In The Dalles, up the Columbia Gorge, hundreds of people from around the region gathered to witness an automobile parade, as well as floats decorated with electrical lighting, down Main Street. Afterwards, folks retired to the fairgrounds to bet on the horse racing there, to cheer on bare-footed racers, and to whoop and holler for the local baseball team.

Closer to Portland — in Vancouver, Washington, in that same year — spectators were treated to a mule obstacle course race, and a wall-scaling demonstration by athletic military personnel stationed at the Vancouver Barracks at Old Ft. Vancouver.

And in 1916, Sellwood was packed for the Fourth of July. Close to 2,000 people attended the Independence Day festivities at Sellwood Park, after a morning parade and a double-header baseball game between Sellwood's youngsters and other schools. Events for the day still tended to focus on athletics —a sack race, a three-legged race, and a hopping contest for girls, along with other categories that included boys' and girls' sprints and relays.

A ball-throwing contest, along with a potato and wheel barrow race, completed the day's festivities with the last events being a cracker-eating contest and a tug of war between married and single men. The single men won, and were awarded a supply of doughnuts for their prowess (the consumption of which might have tended to level the playing field somewhat for the married men).

Two years later, Independence Day in Sellwood in 1918 was an all-day affair at Sellwood Park — complete with a band concert, vaudeville acts, political speeches, and music and songs by local students. The highlight of the celebration was a parade that started at Sellwood School, proceeded to 13th Avenue until it reached Leo Street (today known as Lambert), and then concluded at the Sellwood Park entrance on 7th Avenue.

The parade that year, like most others around the nation, was led by a contingent of Boy Scouts and a Fife and Drum Corps. They were followed by girls pushing decorated doll carriages, as well as a group of girls representing the allied countries involved in what became known as The Great War, but what we now know as World War I. There were many patriotic songs sung by the spectators to honor our soldiers fighting overseas.

Floats in that 1918 parade included a tank, a Liberty Bond Car, an Ambulance, a Conservation Car, and even a "Goddess of Liberty Car". Auxiliary Nurses rode in the back of an open Red Cross vehicle, and the parade completed with people of all ages dressed as familiar storybook characters — Mother Goose, Little Bo Peep, Red Riding Hood (evidently minus the Big Bad Wolf), Jack and Jill, Mother Hubbard — as well as Uncle Sam, and an assortment of clowns and fairies to entice the youngsters.

COURTESY SMILE HISTORY COMMITTEE - Oaks Park has always been a favorite place for family and company picnics, fraternity get-togethers, and social club events. This 1926 photo shows over 200 employees and family members who gathered for Independence Day celebrations at The Oaks. Mens boater straw hats, derbys, and even a sombrero, decorated the heads of the participants. People who didn't have their own neighborhood celebration nearby would spend the day at Oaks Amusement Park. The observance there was already by far one of the largest gatherings for the Fabulous Fourth. It was also a child's paradise. While mothers packed lunches and tended to stay around the amusement park's picnic areas, their children could spend the day riding the various rides, playing games of tag and hide and seek on the common grounds, or roller skating in the pavilion.

Men at Oaks Park on the Fourth could be found trying their luck at the shooting gallery, or gathered with drinks in hand around the barbecue, giving advice to the grillmaster. Others stood nearby sharing stories or telling jokes. Hard liquor and other such spirits had easily been smuggled into the Amusement Park, until "Prohibition" in 1916 stopped the consumption of alcohol completely across the nation.

Once they were able to relax at the park, the women settled into groups of two or four to chat about the exploits of their children and to share family news — pausing only to feed a hungry child who'd arrived back from their adventures in Oaks Park to grab some food or a cool drink.

Of course, at Oaks Park, most of the fun occurred year 'round, and not just on the Fourth of July!

Specifically, during the early years, vaudeville and circus acts were popular entertainment, and new material was presented during the annual Fourth of July performances at The Oaks. The day wasn't complete without buying a ticket for a ride on the scenic railway, the giant metal seaplane attraction flying high above the ground, or stumbling through the Laughing Gallery with its many confusing mirrors and secret exits. In the mid-1920s, new attractions for patrons of the park included a monkey zoo, and a cage with a few live bears.

By evening on each Independence Day at Oaks Park, people were gathering along the bank of the Willamette River, where blankets were spread on the ground, in anticipation of experiencing the hour-long fireworks display. Since its inception in 1905, Oaks Park has always provided a dazzling display of fireworks on the Fourth of July — with pyrotechnics fired out over the Willamette River for everyone in Southeast Portland and the surrounding areas to see. Fireworks were not just limited to Oaks Park. Firecrackers and fireworks could be dangerous, but were popular to buy and use at home for boys and men. Roman candles, rockets, Red Devils, lady fingers, cherry bombs, and giant cannon crackers could be purchased at Erickson's Hardware Store at S.E. 13th and Harney Street. Moreland Hardware, then located nearer the Moreland Theater than it is today, also offered a variety of noisemakers and fireworks. Rickety wooden firework booths could be found on many neighborhood corners, set up temporarily along the commercial districts of Sellwood, Woodstock, and Westmoreland, often staffed by young people or greying senior citizens.

Immigrants new to America took special pride in celebrating this special holiday — but, with their own variations. Swedish residents flocked to Oaks Park in the 1940's on the Fourth, dressed in native folk clothing, there to eat and dance and salute the holiday. Traditional Swedish foods of pickled herring, potato dumplings, cardamon rolls, and strawberry sponge cake were delicacies brought to the picnic area; and the live music of Knusel's Orchestra filtered through the towering oak trees at the Park's picnic grounds. Entertainments included wrestling, arm wrestling, and lots of group singing and laughter. The evenings were highlighted by a yodeling contest, in which young and old — and even family dogs! — joined in.

Meantime, just south of Oregon City in Canemah Park, the Scots were hosting their own version of a Fourth of July party. Under the auspices of the Macleay Clan and the Caledonian Society of Portland there was a Scottish picnic. Attendees were able to take part in Highland and sword dancing, along with a competition for couples to be the best schottische dancer. Bagpipes skirling and a game of rugby, along with stone-throwing and sword demonstrations, replaced the typical American patriotic tunes and baseball games found at most other Independence Day gatherings.

Still in the 1920s, and returning to typical local observances on Independence Day, commercial buildings up and down Milwaukie Avenue in Westmoreland and on 13th Avenue in Sellwood were decked out in patriotic themes. Red, white, and blue bunting could be found hanging from the façades of storefronts, and the Sellwood Confectionary at Tenino and 13th sold Fourth of July greeting cards, as well as red and white candy sticks, spinning pinwheels, and sparkling stars.

Other merchants, like Brill's Department Store, had huge windows decorated with colorful paper maché designs, or brightly-colored tinsel and streamers. Hand-held flags for those attending the community parade could be bought for a dime, and clothing emporiums offered displays of children's swimwear in case the kids decided to spend part of the day at the Oaks Bath House, or down the street at the Sellwood Swimming Pool, which first opened in 1910 and is still there today at Sellwood Park.

In the early Twentieth Century, few people traveled far, and almost all shopping and necessities could be had within a few blocks of where they lived. Independence Day celebrations were usually held nearby. Because of that, each neighborhood had its own place and way to observe the holiday

Sellwood residents had a dedicated park, and community swimming pool, so all their activities were held in Sellwood Park — and, as for their Fourth of July parade: You marched on 13th Avenue in the main commercial district, and the route wound around and ended at Sellwood Park, where everyone gathered for the remainder of the day.

Those people who lived in "South Moreland", along S.E. 17th between Bybee Boulevard and Nehalem Street, had their own park: Johnson Creek Park, located at 21st and S.E. Clatsop, was dedicated to South Moreland by the City of Portland in 1920. An outdoor playground was installed, and residents living in the area felt that Independence Day activities should properly be held at Johnson Creek Park — so they had their own parade that came down 17th Avenue and ended at that park for the all-day Independence Day events, such as the community picnic.

In 1925, Westmoreland residents were calling on the city for a park of their own, but nobody seemed to be listening to them. They had their own school — Llewellyn Elementary — and their own movie theater; they had their own streetcar, which ran down Milwaukie Avenue. But they had no park where they could watch baseball games or hold any outdoor activities.

They even had their own Neighborhood Association: the Westmoreland Community Club. So, instead of traipsing over to Sellwood for Independence Day celebrations, or accepting an invitation to Johnson Creek Park, they organized their own party. The Westmoreland Community Club invited everyone who lived in their neighborhood to a special Fourth of July dance aboard the riverboat "The Swan", with lively music by Darby's Orchestra. Women and girls wore summer dresses sporting patriotic themes, while men wore straw "boater" hats with miniature American flags protruding from the sides. But for Westmoreland, a park would finally be coming — as a job-providing "public works" project during the Great Depression in the 1930s.

COURTESY DANA BECK COLLECTION - Nothing better on a hot Fourth of July than enjoying, hot dogs, hamburgers, corn on the cob, apple pie, potato salad - and when the evenings done, the family gathers in the front yard for sweet, cool watermelon.So it was that in 1936 Westmoreland Park was officially dedicated to the residents of Westmoreland. Typical food for the Fourth at that time might include homemade potato salad, biscuits, coleslaw, bean salad, corn on the cob, and barbecued ribs or chicken. Everyone made sure to leave room afterwards for ice-cold watermelon, or strawberry shortcake and ice cream.

Following each of the last century's two World Wars, many American parades were filled with returning solders, military vehicles, and military themes. In 1921 a parade was organized at Peninsula Park in Portland to honor not only the World War I Veterans, but also the men who fought in the Spanish-American War, and even those still alive from the Grand Army of the Republic. The 1921 celebration in Portland included three boats — a torpedo boat and two destroyers — from the United States Navy, which docked downtown on the Willamette. Their sailors were invited to march in thecity's July 4th parade. Afterwards, afternoon activities included a stunt contest, a pie-eating tournament, and a three-legged race, among other things.

Meanwhile, over at Mt. Scott, the locals attended a Boy Scout parade, followed by a lively baseball game, and volleyball and even track and field events.

By the 1960s and thereafter, Independence Day Parades had largely lost the interest of Portland and Inner Southeast residents. But in Eastmoreland, the folks were thinking of ways to bring back festivities of the Fourth of July. Ken Brooks proposed to the Eastmoreland Neighborhood Association a bicycle-only parade, and an ice cream social — and the ENA approved the idea. In 1994 the first Independence Bicycle Parade in Eastmoreland took place and it continues to the present day.

As Eastmoreland Historian Joanne Carlson recorded, "It's not unusual to have over 1,000 people show up for the annual Eastmoreland Independence Day Parade" — a parade which will again take place this year on that day, starting and ending at Duniway Elementary School. Designated as a bicycle parade, everyone from children to grandparents gets involved, and even dogs in the parade join in, putting up with being decorated — decked out in zany or colonial designs or clothing, representing the Fourth of July spirit.

In the Eastmoreland parade, there are usually at least a few motor vehicles — Fire Engine #20 from the Westmorland fire station often leads the parade, which may also include a Portland Police pace car, and sometimes an assortment of vintage autos. Marching units vary, but some past participants have included Cub Scout Troops, clowns, school bands, Rose Festival Princesses, and even riders on horseback.

This year's Eastmoreland Parade is promised once again to have lots of participants, and to draw a large crowd of spectators — it will start promptly at 10 a.m. on Monday, July 4, at Duniway School. If you attend, feel free to bring your lawn chair, your American Flag, and lots of enthusiasm and cheers for the youngsters on parade.

If you're not in the mood for a parade, or are looking for other ways to celebrate with a feel of Americana this year, don't forget the big fireworks show at Oaks Amusement Park — a display accompanied by the sight and sound of carnival music and the neon lights of the Ferris Wheel and all the other rides that will be open and in action there that evening.

This year, our country celebrates 246 years of declared independence, and has grown from 13 defiant small colonies isolated in a distant land to the mightiest country on earth. Happy Independence Day to you!


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