Our July 4 Parade
The Hingham July 4 parade has become the town's most anticipated and best attended annual event. Years ago, when life was very different, Hingham customarily had no July 4 parade. Although July 4 parades were held in the post Revolutionary War period, there are no readily available records for the years prior to 1827, the first year of publication of the Hingham Journal (then called the Gazette).
1800 - 1840
The Gazette noted on July 6, 1827 that "this important event was not noticed in our village by either public oration or procession of any kind." It went on to say "We were honored by an unusual share of visitors from Boston and adjacent towns. Hundreds repaired to the beach and the islands to enjoy the pleasures which these delightful retreats offered." These visitors arrived by steamboat or by horse drawn coach. The train would not arrive for twenty years.
In 1830, the Gazette noted that "little interest is manifested in the anniversary of our National Independence". The editorial concluded "if our participation has less of show and parades, let us not be deficient in purity and power."
The following year there was "no public demonstration in this place" but the day began with a "merry peal of bells." Hingham citizens could always attend events in Boston or neighboring towns and these were listed in the Gazette before the holiday.
Finally in 1832 the Fourth was celebrated "in fine spirits." The day began with a "National Salute" and the ringing of bells. Ships in the harbor displayed their flags at masthead. At 10:30am a "long procession" was formed at Little and Morey's Hotel at Broad Bridge (now the site of the Post Office). Accompanied by the Brigade Band, the Hingham Rifle Company and parade marshals, the procession walked to the "Meeting House of the First Parish" (Old Ship). There a choir from several churches sang an anthem. Reverend Brooks offered a "fervent and impressive prayer." Mr. Luther Lincoln (not a descendant of Gen. Benjamin Lincoln) read the Declaration of Independence "with fine effect". After another hymn the oration was delivered by Mr. James Wilder. This was "listened to for more than an hour with undivided attention by a large audience." The leading topic was "duties of Freemen".
In 1834 the "Washington Guards" marched with a "new standard." This was presented by the "Ladies of the town." The Guard then dined at the Old Colony Hotel (near the junction of Summer Street and Martins Lane).
1840 - 1870It was not until July 4, 1842 that Hingham had another major parade. This was also the first "theme" parade. Abstinence reform was sweeping the nation and temperance became the parade theme and the major subject of the oration. This was also the first event to include women and children. The procession was led by a band, and the military escort consisted of the "Cold Water Armies" of Hingham, South Hingham and East Weymouth. The "flatform wagons" (flatbeds) had original displays pertinent to the theme. One had a young woman with a banner stating "No abstinence, No wife"! Others carried members of the Women's Union Total Abstinence Society.
At the Meeting House, the Armies occupied pews around the sides - a "splendid sight" in their uniforms. The usual format of anthems, prayers, reading of the Declaration, oration, hymns, and benediction was followed. Then all groups proceeded to the Union Hotel (formerly Little and Morey's) where, under a pavilion, the festivities continued with customary Regular and Voluntary toasts - presumably all non alcoholic.
The next ten years were without a parade. In 1853 there was a "military display" on the Common. The soldiers of the Flying Artillery, the Hingham Infantry and the Mayflower Cavalry accompanied by the Weymouth Brass Band mustered at 4am. They drilled and then had breakfast. This was followed by a sham fight after which they demobilized.
In 1859 another military parade mustered at Broad Bridge. Headed by the North Weymouth Silver Band they marched won North Street to West Street to Hersey Street down Elm Street to Main Street and then down Water Street to summer Street. There they marched to the home of Isaac Barnes. After a brief ceremony they countermarched and returned to the "spacious hall over the Depot" for a "beautiful repast prepared in part by the secret voluntary contributions of numerous lady friends". During the meal the "troops were interrupted by the entrance of a number of young ladies dressed in white, bearing bunches of flowers, singing patriotic songs". Following this surprise event, the usual toasts were offered and the occasion ended "happily and peacefully".
Independence Day during the Civil War years was celebrated by bonfires, fireworks, and ringing bells but no formal parades. On July 4, 1866, the Journal advised "Let us rejoice today that the country which our fathers founded has survived rebellion: that liberty still lives, and we are one nation. Let us remember our young martyrs who so willingly gave their lives that the nation might live. Green are their graves, fresh are their memories"! (84 Hingham soldiers gave their lives). The day was celebrated by a morning concert, a short parade consisting of ten officers of the Turkey Town Light Guard, an afternoon "wash tub regatta" on Mill Pond, and fireworks in the evening. Four hundred special police were employed to prevent undue "jollification".
The next few years were without a parade. In 1870 the Journal reported a strawberry festival as the major event on July 4.
1870 - 1900The Centennial Anniversary in 1876 was held on a "dry, hot and dusty day" but was celebrated with enthusiasm. The parade formed in Fountain Square (Lincoln and North Streets), proceeded down north Street to Goolds Bridge (West Hingham), up North Street to Main Street an then to Agricultural Hall via Leavitt and East Streets. Agricultural Hall is now the site of the Library. The Hall had been built nine years before and had a large exhibition area s well as a dining room seating 600.
The parade was formed of three divisions. Leading the first division was a detachment of police, and then came the Hingham Brass Band and Post 104 of the GAR. Following were the Committee for Arrangements, the Selectmen and other town officials - all in carriages. Next came "14 gentlemen in one carriage whose aggregate age was 1055 years"! Then a carriage of "13 young ladies attired in the costume of 'Ye Ancient Maidens' representing the 13 original States. They in turn were followed by a large carriage with 39 young ladies in red, white, and blue representing the Nation and the 39 States of the Union. The second division consisted of fire department "Engines: Torrent #2, Niagra #3, Constitution #4 and Deluge #5. Each was accompanied by a foreman and a crew of 30 - 50 firemen. The third division consisted of 500 children from private and public schools carried in 16 large carriages.
Upon reaching Agricultural hall, people were seated and the "literary exercises" began with the customary prayer, the welcoming address, the reading of the Declaration, and the oration (Brooks Adams, Esq. - Boston). This was followed by an original hymn written by the Honorable John d. Long. The occasion was brought to a close by the singing of "America". There were no toasts.
In 1877 there was no parade, but the Journal noted that more than 3,000 people visited Melville Gardens. The steamboats were running throughout the day.
On Independence Day, 1880, the horsemen and the hose carriages from several "engines" met at Broad Bridge for a demonstration of water power.
On July 2, 1886, the Journal noted "Having learned through private sources that the President (Cleveland) and his bride will be spending the coming Fourth at Waverly House, Nantasket, the patriotic citizens of Hingham Centre have done him the honor of an invitation to be their guest to review the military and civic procession which will parade on that occasion." On July 9, the Journal reported that the parade was successful but that ere was no mention of the President or his bride.
1887 saw a full parade. After a sunrise salute at the commons, carriages and paraders found their assigned places on the Agricultural Grounds. The order of the procession began with mounted police, the Weymouth Band, marshals and town officials. Flatform wagons had displays - one with the old and new town Halls. The last was an 18 foot high Trojan Horse. This remained at the Commons because of obstructing elm trees along the parade route.
The parade route was the most lengthy on record. The procession proceeded to Broad Bridge via Leavitt and Main Streets. There they countermarched up Main Street to Middle Street, Pleasant Street and Main Street again to Cole Corner. They again countermarched back down Main Street to the Commons. At this point there was a reading of the Declaration of Independence, an Oration and later a "well attended baseball game."
In 1891 the Journal noted "nothing of moment happened on this National Holiday." "The night before, at midnight was the ringing of bells in the lower part of town and there were the usual bonfires in the squares. On the Fourth of July night there were several credible displays of fireworks by private individuals and the day ended."
In 1894 the town had "a noisy night and day." After ringing of the bells at midnight there was "interference with the fire alarm. This condition of rowdyism should be stopped".
1898 saw a large parade which started at Broad Bridge, North Street to West Street, up Main Street to Pleasant Street, down Middle Street to the Common. "People everywhere lined the streets and the streetcars brought hosts of people from out of town." A leading feature of the parade was a "company of Uncle Sams." The company was made up of twenty boys ages 10 to 15 years dressed as miniature Uncle Sams. The uniforms consisted of red and white striped trousers and blue swallow tailed coats with the stars of the original 13 States on the tails. Each boy had a white standing collar and a white stovepipe hat. Each carried a wooden gun with an American flag tied to the barrel. "Their marching was in excellent order, the little fellows having drilled for the occasion." The National Brass Band and the John D. Long Fife and Bugle Corps provided cadence. There were "floats" and an interesting "Transparency". This carriage carried pictures of the recent naval battle in Manila Bay - the defeat of the Spanish fleet by Admiral Dewey. The parade had 34 units including several more transparency carriages. Upon reaching the Common, there were prayers, music and an oration. The Journal noted: "We doubt if any town our size could have produced a better parade from first to last." It also praised the hospitality of Mr. Walter C. Shute of South Hingham, who served lemonade to the entire parade with "only a trifling delay."
1900 - 1950Times were changing. The next parade in 1911 was an automobile parade. This began at the High School (off Central Street) and "covered the principle streets in all parts of town." The Village Improvement Society Band led the parade in a "motor truck." The events filled the afternoon hours.
There were no publicized parades for many years. The Town Meeting in 1930 voted $1,500 for the Fourth of July celebration. Events began the night of the third with a band concert at the playground and a huge bonfire "on the stroke of 12." The parade the next morning was typical of the type of parade Hingham would have for the next two decades. A Children's Parade stepped off first, starting near the Town office Building (northeast corner of North and Main Streets), proceeding up Main Street to the Center and then to the Playgrounds. By and large these were youngsters, but "children of all ages" were invited to parade in "bizarre and outlandish dress". Upon arrival at the Playground prizes were given and ice cream distributed. This march of the "Horribles" became a much anticipated event.
The adult parade also began on lower Main Street but would march to Cole Corner and countermarch back to the Playgrounds. Athletic events would follow with a baseball game in the afternoon.
An adult Uncle Sam made his first appearances in 1933. Harry Hough led the parade that year and in 1934. Although there was now an annual parade, Uncle Sam did not reappear until 1939 - this time Hingham's Postmaster, George Magner.
During the war years of 1941 - 1945 the "Horribles" and usually a military contingent from the Ammunition Depot and Civil Defense personnel marched. There were no bonfires or scheduled fireworks.
Francis S. Wright became Uncle Sam in 1946 and continued in this role for the next 29 years.
In 1948 a "monster parade" (in size) included all branches of the military, Boy Scouts, hand pumps, fraternal groups, Red Cross personnel, English saddle clubs, antique cars, a "real live Sheriff posse in full regalia", commercial floats including a huge ship propeller from Bethlehem Steel Corp., and several marching bands. As in previous years, the "Horribles" went up Main Street to the Playgrounds and the rest went to Cole Corner, then down Center Street to the Playgrounds. Ice cream was distributed and athletic events followed. In 1949 the parade was "a mile long." In 1950 there were "20,000 spectators", a Soap Box Derby down fearing Road, and a "huge bonfire" on Button Island.
1950 - Today1976 marked the Bicentennial Anniversary. This was successfully celebrated with a large parade. There were more than 900 participants and 48 floats. The "old" parade route was taken into West Hingham and up Main Street to the High School. In 1981 George Ela became Uncle Sam and would continue the tradition for another decade.
In 1956 after completion of the new High School, it is interesting to note that the parade route now extended to the school grounds via Middle and Union Streets. For many years, the Parade proceeded from Station Street staging areas down North Street to Hersey Street, across to South Street, and then followed the original route up Pear Tree Hill to the High School. This was arduous and after many years the route was reversed to take advantage of the plentiful staging area at the High School as well as the downhill march on Pear Tree Hill. The North and South Streets loop was eliminated.
More recently, in 1999 and 2000, the route was "remodeled" with staging at the new Town Hall, marching via Central Street to Cole Corner and down Main Street to Station Street to disperse. This excluded the Union Street and Middle Street segments to the consternation of those neighborhoods. Unfortunately, it was found that the new lighting fixtures in the High School parking areas (a necessity) did not allow turning room for parade vehicles. The 2001 route included staging along Union and Pleasant Streets and has continued this way for the past few years.
In many ways our parade is as much an institution as the Old Ship - although not as ancient. As a living institution it has changed with the times. The Fourth is no longer a holy day and has become a three day holiday. The parade is no longer followed by prayers, hymns, the reading of the Declaration, an oration and Regular and Volunteer toasts. The spirit of the parade and what it represents persist. The parade is now largely "on wheels" but this began with horse drawn carriages. The viewing audience has changed because many Hingham citizens have vacation homes elsewhere. Regardless, 20,000 or more enthusiastic spectators continue to line the streets for the event.
The parade has always had some wonderful subplots. Two Uncle Sam's, Francis S. Wright and George Ela, account for almost half a century of parade leadership. Both remained faithful until the very ends of their lives. Another perhaps less well known tradition was the assistance provided by Dr. Roy Eldredge and family to Uncle Sam. This was especially helpful on the uphill march on Pear Tree Hill. Uncle Sam would bring the parade to a brief halt in from of the Eldredge home/office. Enough time was taken for an appropriate liquid refresher prescribed by the good doctor. Prevention of heat exhaustion was always of great importance.
The "Horribles" have passed into history and the involvement of young people has shifted to other activities. The design contest for the parade button and the tremendously successful Independence Day Race - involving all ages - are examples. The Race, begun by the Hingham Striders, had more than 1,500 participants last year. Other service club activities are always well attended. The Pancake Breakfast on the Commons (Kiwanis Club) and the fireworks on Button Island (Lions Club) are holiday highlights.
Institutions must have foundations. The foundation for the parade is the Parade Committee. The Committee is under the jurisdiction of the Office of Selectmen. The members are unpaid volunteers who are sworn in by the Town Clerk for a tenure of one year. Parade preparation begins in January and monthly meetings are held through the spring. Considerations include parade route, parade composition, expenses and safety issues. The Committee coordinates with the Police and Fire Departments. If problems arise, they are usually solved within the committee, but occasionally disputes are taken to the Selectmen for resolution.
Financing the parade is always a concern. In the 1800's money was voted at Town Meeting. More recently, the parade has financed itself. Local stores sell parade buttons during May and June. Large numbers of buttons are sold by Rotarians during the parade. Another major source of money has been the Selectman's' Golf Tournament.
Income from these sources has provided a comfortable "bank account" to date, but there is no guarantee for indefinite funding. A July 4 Parade Endowment Fund might be considered in the future. This would involve a separate fund drive but could provide enough annual interest for an annual parade.
Certainly, part of the essence of Hingham is our July 4 parade. It would be wonderful to know that it is guaranteed for years to come.
Not All Is Changed by Lorena and Russ Hart
History of the Town of Hingham
Hingham Journal microfilm records Hingham Public Library
The Oxford History of the American People by Samuel Eliot Morison
A. Alden Carpenter, M.D. has lived in Hingham for 40 years. For several years he has been the parade's Uncle Sam. For many years before that, he participated in the Satuit Band. These experiences kindled an interest in the history of the parade and resulted in this report.