Echoes From The Past: Truckee’s Fourth of July celebrations have long history
Aside from the winter carnival, Truckee’s community Fourth of July celebration was one of the most important summer activities in town. Many stories about early celebrations can be found in the pages of the Truckee Republican newspaper.
In those days the parade route was limited to the downtown area. To accommodate such occasions, the town’s forefathers constructed a plaza, which was situated just west of today’s train depot. This was the focal point for speeches and most athletic events.
A large temporary structure was set up in the plaza to accommodate barbecue tables where townspeople joined and toasted the occasion. Merchants always took the time to decorate their storefronts with red, white and blue ribbons or with American flags.
The centennial celebration in 1876 feathered a grand parade including a “Car of Liberty,” carrying the Goddess of Liberty and other young ladies representing the states and territories with the men from the local fire department as escorts. All civic organizations joined the procession and the Truckee Brass Band furnished music for the “Grand Centennial Ball” which followed at Hurd’s Hall, which was located upstairs in today’s Capitol building.
Early parades often featured a “100 guns” salute and a general ringing of bells which was called “the great blow-out of the democracy.” This involved the firing off of cannons, which sometimes broke downtown windows. On one occasion, live trout kept in Joseph Marzen’s fish tank at his butcher shop were all killed by the concussion. However, nobody ever complained.
In 1882, the parade featured John Moody and Lizzie Edwards dressed as Mr. and Mrs. George Washington. Then came patriotic speeches followed by the opening of “Old John Robinson’s Circus” and fireworks show in the downtown Plaza.
In 1902, the feature attraction was a baseball game between Floriston and Truckee followed by foot races for men and boys, a horse race through town, fireworks and the traditional “Grand Ball” at Hurd’s.
The “Glorious Fourth” program of 1912 featured a parade followed by “patriotic literary exercises.” There were cowboy races, a women’s horse race, bronco busting, wild steer roping and “catching a rooster on horseback.” That year’s program also included a variety of foot races, sack races, a three-legged race, an egg-and-spoon race, capped by an auto race to Donner Lake and back.
Cash prizes were awarded to the winners of the events ranging from $2.50 to $5, and $50 for the fastest race car driver.
One of the largest Fourth of July parades took place in 1933, serving as the kickoff for “Frontier Days,” which was attended by a crowd of 5,000. The event featured a spectacular procession with a pony express rider, an old stagecoach, Native Americans and scouts in full regalia. Will Rogers attended and was invited to drive the coach.
Following a tradition which has lasted for more than a century, the Town of Truckee and its citizens continue to celebrate, as did their forebears, and find new ways to celebrate and pay tribute to “Old Glory.”
“Echoes From The Past” appears every other week in the Sierra Sun. Guy Coates is vice president and research historian for the Truckee-Donner Historical Society. He can be reached through the Society at 582-0893 or by E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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