Yankee Doodle Killjoy

IndependenceDayCard

“July 4th. The Day We Celebrate.” Undated (early twentieth-century) postcard.

On July 3, 1879 (one hundred and thirty-seven years ago today, for those keeping track) The Wellington Enterprise had some things to say about the celebration of Independence Day. The author of the piece was most likely publisher and editor Dr. John Houghton, though it might also have been his co-editor and spouse, journalist Mary Hayes Houghton. Dr. Houghton was a fervent booster of the village and promoter of its economic growth,  so the reader would be forgiven for expecting him to favor community-wide celebrations. But Houghton was also adamant that the town needed a dedicated fire department. He owned a wood-frame three-story building on the west side of South Main Street that housed his own drug and stationery shop on the ground floor, the publishing operation of the Enterprise on the second floor, and the local Masonic Hall on the top floor. The structure had been-and would be again-damaged in more than one conflagration. From that perspective, the 4th of July was a nightmarish experience. It would be January 1881 before Wellington formed its first volunteer fire company, so Houghton must have been crossing his fingers and praying for an uneventful holiday when he penned the following.

The Fourth of July. The day is dreaded by every town property holder as much as it is anticipated by the small boy with his promise of fire-crackers and a toy gun. We trust that in according all suitable liberty to celebrators proper forethought may be used and due care for the safety of an unprotected village exposed to the accident of fire. We remember that last year a great bonfire was permitted on our little public square, a dangerous proceeding whatever the condition of the atmosphere, and twice during the evening burning material was carried by the current to the high roof of our office building, igniting the pine shingles so that a comfortable blaze was started, and but for the forethought of two citizens who climbed to the roof and discovered it in its beginning, thousands of dollars worth of property would have soon been in ashes.

Wellington has no means of promptly putting out fires that start on the roof of a three story building. Our Mayor [A.W. Palmer] has the authority to restrain such recklessness, and the people will expect him to forbid any such foolish demonstration as that of last year. The hooting and yelling about the bonfire, even a long way off, sounded as though the whole Indian reservation had emptied its noisy hordes who were having a war dance in our midst. And the firing of that old cannon to the destruction of costly church windows and frail private property in the stores is another outrage that we hope will not again be allowed within the corporation. We give voice to the feelings of hundreds of our citizens in mentioning this, and for the comfort and security of all who have homes or business interests at stake, and not from any desire to criticize any private citizen or public officer.

It is not the real patriots who care to express their loyalty to and appreciation of the government by dangerous and ear-splitting exhibitions and the burning of barrels and dry goods boxes saturated with coal tar. There is always a painful reaction from the hilarity of the 4th when the returns begin to come in and we must consider how many hearts must always ache with the remembrance of the day, because of lives lost, friends maimed or property burned. Let not all reflection be too late for profit” (pg. 3).

And on that uplifting note, Happy 4th of July! May it be a safe and joyous occasion for everyone.

970885

J. W. Houghton’s drug, book and stationery store, formerly located on the west side of South Main Street. The building was demolished in the 1960s and the site is today part of the Farm & Home Hardware parking lot. Photo 970885 of “Wellington Family Album” Collection, Herrick Memorial Library. Permission to display generously granted by the library.

 

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