As it were

City's 4th a quieter affair in 1913


Coming as it does in the midst of the summer, the Fourth of July holiday tends to be a hot one. The Fourth of July in 1913 was no exception. The city had been sweltering through a hot spell for several days and temperatures on the Fourth reached into the 90s. Most people in Columbus were undeterred by the heat, however, and indulged themselves in a wide variety of activities.

Spirits remained high for a number of reasons. Tempering the heat was a recurrent breeze which took something off the edge of the humidity that often accompanies hot days in Ohio. Secondly, most people had the day off from work and were looking forward to holiday events in the capital city. And finally, the Fourth fell on a Friday in 1913 and gave most people a three-day weekend.

There was lot to do in Columbus on a holiday in July in 1913. Many of the larger restaurants and theatres remained open and offered holiday presentations. The major amusement parks -- Olentangy and Indianola -- were open as well. Indianola Park later reported that it had a record attendance at what it touted as the largest swimming pool in Ohio, at Nineteenth and North Fourth Streets.

For people who had little volition or little money to attend the amusement parks, there were a variety of other alternatives. The city of Columbus through was what then called its Public Recreation Department scheduled a full day of programming in each of the city's major public parks. Band concerts were held at 2:30 in the afternoon at Franklin, Goodale, Glenwood and Schiller parks and lasted until 5 p.m.

To keep young people occupied and to help them work off what were usually large picnic lunches, a series of activities were offered by the staff of the parks. Afternoon events included 50-yard races for boys and girls, ball throwing contests, potato sack races, flag races, and something quaintly called "jumping jacks and jubilee." There were also lessons offered in the proper dancing of the Virginia Reel as well as instructions in how to perform an Indian War Dance.

After pausing for supper, an evening program of activities in the parks included more sack races, a standing broad jump contest, a flag relay race, a Russian Dance, a flag salute and an event interestingly called "The Lobster Promenade."

Presumably after all of this running, jumping, dancing and promenading, the young people of Columbus were tired enough to pose little annoyance as their parents listened to an evening band concert before returning home. Some people stayed at the same city park all day. Others, especially those in their teens and 20s often visited several parks where the musical programs were different and the schedule of other events differed as well. For many people the highlight of the day was a special concert of the steps of the Statehouse in the evening by the Ohio Fourth Regiment Band. After the concerts, people returned home after a pleasant day.

To the modern observer -- especially after joining a small, intimate crowd of 500,000 people for Red, White and Boom! along the Scioto Riverfront -- what seems most unusual about the Fourth of July in 1913 was the mention of fireworks. For the most part there was no mention because there were few if any set off in the city. After a number of years of horrific accidents -- especially involving children and fireworks -- the city banned their use in 1909 and promoted the idea of a "safe and sane" Fourth of July. People caught with fireworks and especially people caught setting them off were subject to arrest and a rather stiff fine.

While the occasional firecracker could still be heard on the Fourth, the massive fireworks displays of previous years had generally ended.

There was one major exception to this rule. The neighbors of a long block on Ninth Avenue had successfully petitioned the city for permission to set off fireworks on the Fourth. A local paper reported on the event. "The envy of the old-timers were the people out in Ninth Avenue west of Neil. They had real fireworks up there, but even there they were regulated. The 'elders' did most of the shooting. There were also may pole dances and all manner of refreshments and finally a grand march in which everybody took part."

For many people, a simple day at home with family and friends was preferable to all of the activity taking place across the city. A local paper described that sort of Fourth as well.

"In spite of the heat of the sun's rays Friday, a refreshing breeze spelled a generous relief. So it wasn't very unpleasant anywhere, and the man or woman or child who just remained at home wasn't so very badly off. Of course a little ice and a clever book and agreeable companions counts much for or against the pleasurable success of the day."

For most people in Columbus, it was a fine Fourth.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek News.