Sonora’s 4th of July

Wouldn’t you love to turn back the pages of time to the Fourth of July in the dear old Sonora of yesterday? Do you remember how we all talked and planned for months for the coming Fourth? Why, it was the big, outstanding celebration of the year.

Everybody – men, women and children from every part of the county came to town for the day, generally staying far into the night. Can’t you see buggies, surreys, buckboards and sping wagons, loaded, arriving in town very early, the horses being “put up” at Shine’s Kelly’s or Pickle’s stables, while Patsy Kelly, Henry Pearsall, Tom Gibbons or Johnny Gaynor would throw a good feed of hay into the mangers for the horses? Also, “Shorty” Dennis and Judge Adams did a rushing business that day with their stables full.

Do you remember being awakened at daybreak when the old cannon was fired on Leonard’s Hill, followed by ringing of church bells, intermingled with the clanging of fire bells, all to ushers in the glorious Fourth? Why, nothing in the world could have kept us in bed after this. We had fireworks all shapes and sizes (no law against them then) and you could hear popping and cracking all over town, much to the delight of the children.

Do you remember how eager we were to put on our little starched. ruffled petticoats and lawn dresses with lovely salmon pick or pale blue sashes? And we had large leghorn hats with streamers of ‘watered’ ribbon, and oh, how we thrilled at the cloth-top buttoned shoes. We sometimes had a bracelet or a necklace from Osborn’s jewelry store. Boys wore white blouses and pants (not trousers then) and often copper-toed shoes.

Do you remember how a committee worked for weeks? Money was solicited from business houses, sometimes two or three thousand dollars to defray expenses and put on a big celebration. The town was decorated for a week and presented a gay appearance with red, white and blue bunting, flags everywhere.

There were several bands and they began playing early. Grand Marshals rode up and down the street on beautiful sleek horses with crimped mane and tail which had been braided the night before, and with bright rosettes on their fancy bridles, they galloped and pranced as if they, too, felt the spirit of the day.

There were benches along the street from one end of the town to the other, and on nearly every corner a barrel of ice water with tin cups.

By ten o’clock the streets were full of people, crowded, surging up and down into ice cream parlors – Mrs. Gerlacks’ , Aunt Liza’s or Mrs. Lick’s. What an extra assortment of taffies Mrs. Lick prepared for the day for her funny little window – a funny little store, too – but what delicious candy! There was never any like it anywhere.

The Hennessey sisters next door, with their window full of gay Summer hats. E. Frisbie with his 325 pounds avoirdupois sitting placidly in front of his store waiting for the parade, and his neighbors, Mark Hughes, Dennis Ryan and Mike Wolfling sitting on benches near.

Do you remember how pretty dear Maggie Riordan’s window was, and the sweet faced little mother sitting on the bench in front of her store?  Up town we can see Jim McCormick riding down street on his fine bay horses – Fred Macomber in his buggy, aristocratic and dignified with black prince Albert coat, high white collar and a black tie and tall silk hat – truly a figure stepped out of one of Dicken’s novels.

Groups of Indians at the corner, the young mothers with papooses on their backs, their little putty faces smeared with dirt and candy, and the typical old Diggers, Calapina, Matilda and Bolelo.

Can’t you see “Big Lou” and her coterie driving up and down in a fine carriage, in all their wicked elegance?

Do you recall Johnny Orr, one of the first to don a fireman’s red shirt on the Fourth? Johnny was a carpet layer, (he sewed and laid ingrain carpet for nearly every household in Sonora) over a layer of straw. How soft and crunchy it felt under our feet and how sweet and clean. At house-cleaning time Johnny came again, to take up and turn carpets and put down a fresh layer of straw.

Can’t you see Colonel Rodgers sitting on a bench in front of Turn Verein Hall, He began celebrating early, so is delayed getting home –  a brilliant lawyer.

Somehow my pen falters as I recall so many,  scattered among memory’s leaves – characters from every situation in life. Some eccentric, some “a wee bit queer”, but they were a part of old Sonora and memories of them to us are sweet.

And now the parade – the big event of the day, forming at Divoll’s corner, marching up Washington Street, way out and through the archway at Bauman’s Brewery. John Bauman was a liberal contributor to the celebration, and this was a little courtesy to him.

The parade was often a half mile in length – Grand Marshals in the lead on prancing horses, then the fine Columbia Band, then the Firemen pulling the old hose carts, Al Moore, Jack Williams and Jack Noonan, leading. Now carriages with speakers and singers, followed by various orders and the school children, another band then various floats, all so beautiful. The lagers floats were built on Brandford’s lumber wagon and drawn by big wheel horses – Ben Keith, Jim Mills and Andy Shine often driving.

Do you remember Ella Hart, stately and dignified as Goddess of Liberty on the first float, then out sweer Lottie Gasaretto, representing California, on the Native Daughters float – our Lottie with a childhood full of beauty and promise, but the sunset of her life one of sorrow and tragedy. How those faithful Native Daughters worked! We can almost see dear Mrs. Nettie Rother working early and late on Grecian robes and gold crowns for the girls to wear.

The march ended at the old Turn Verein Hall, which was already crowded to the doors. What singing, what oratory, and flags waving and bands playing. I recall our dear Henry Burden, bubbling over with enthusiasm as President of the Day and the brilliant Charles H. Randall as orator. How he held the audience spellbound with a magnetism that was indefinable. Why, we were entranced, even as children.

Do you remember the ragamuffins in the afternoon – caricatures and fun to lend variety to the day’s program?

The streets now were even more crowded – confetti-big firecrackers – ice cream stands and soda water and lemonade stands did a rushing of business. Do you recall the lemonade made of citric acid from Mrs. Mouron’s drug store and a little lemon extract from Dr. Wallker’s No lemons at all – but wasn’t it good? Bands played up and down town and special music in front of the saloons – they also being liberal contributors (an old Sonora custom).

Then there were races for old and young and prizes for all. These closed the day’s festivities and as the sun sank behind our beautiful hills, the old cannon was again fired – but wait – there is to be an evening parade – a gorgeous spectacle. Can’t you see the street fairly ablaze and the skies aglow with sky rockets and Roman candles fired from the fountain by Henry Burden as the procession moves up town?

What a wonderful day it has been! Children toddle home and lay tired little heads on downy pillows to sleep while the older ones are planning for the grand ball.

What a joy to anticipate! A fine orchestra, girls in pretty dresses of Swiss and Tarleton, with their beaus. Can’t you almost hear the rhythmic schottische, polka and Virginia Reel, and feel the sway of the old Turn Verein floor as the orchestra plays the old waltzes, “Little Annie Rooney” – “After the Ball”?

I know we would all love to turn back memory’s pages once again to one of the Fourth’s of yesterday.

“Oh, where are the fields of Childhood Days?

Gone, gone but yesterday,

Oh, so green, so blue, so white

The fields, the sky, the trees delight.

We do not see the low-hung sky

Almost touching the tree-tops high

As the years go by, the sky recedes,

Once so near to childhood’s needs

But, wouldn’t you love to go back, once more,

And live again the days of yore.”

City of Sonora