As it were

A safe and sane Fourth of July

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All in all, the Fourth of July in Columbus, Ohio, during its Centennial year of 1912 was much more pleasant than the celebration of 1911. This had little to do with the intentions of most people in Ohio’s capital city to enthusiastically celebrate Independence Day. People in Columbus 100 years ago liked a holiday as much as people do today. And certainly, there were just as many things to do in 1911 as there were in 1912.

All in all, the Fourth of July in Columbus, Ohio, during its Centennial year of 1912 was much more pleasant than the celebration of 1911. This had little to do with the intentions of most people in Ohio’s capital city to enthusiastically celebrate Independence Day. People in Columbus 100 years ago liked a holiday as much as people do today. And certainly, there were just as many things to do in 1911 as there were in 1912.
 
The difference was in the weather. In 1911, Columbus suffered through one of the worst heat waves in its history. The temperature on July 4, 1911 was in excess of 103 degrees Fahrenheit and many people put off travel or most other sorts of activity and tried to find ways to stay cool. People still held family gatherings and went to fireworks exhibitions. But the holiday was definitely dampered by the heat.
 
Such would not be the case in 1912.
 
Columbus had been created to be the new capital of Ohio in 1812 and in 1912 the city was spending much of the year celebrating that fact. Fortunately, the weather decided to cooperate as well. The Fourth of July in
 
Columbus was partly cloudy with temperatures peaking in the low 80s. Simply put, it was a nice day for a holiday and the people of Columbus decided to make the most of it.
But even with flags waving from many homes and most businesses closed for the day, the city of Columbus resolved for the third consecutive year to have a “Safe and Sane” Fourth of July.
 
The development of ever more powerful explosives in the years after the American Civil War had also produced celebratory fireworks that were at once both impressive and dangerous. The horrific injuries sustained by young children playing with firecrackers had led cities like Columbus to limit their use. 
 
Safety Director Barger explained, “We mean to do our very best to enforce this ordinance for the safe and sane Fourth, and feel sure we can accomplish it. This ordinance not only forbids the use of any kind of fireworks or explosives, but also forbids the offering of them for sale, and we will enforce both features.”
 
Fireworks exhibitions could be held but they required the permission of the mayor and City Council. On this Fourth of July, only three permits were issued – to the North Side Businessmen’s Association, the residents of Ninth Avenue west of Neil Avenue and lastly to a man named Lee Wachter for use at his home on Wilber Avenue.
 
On this Fourth of July many people took advantage of the fine weather to spend the day at some of the public and private parks around the city. Several thousand people spent the day in Goodale Park listening to band concerts and patriotic speeches and observing the dedication of a new shelter house. In the evening the North Side Chamber of Commerce provided the fireworks.
 
Some people visited Indianola Park and its large swimming pool while others went to nearby Olentangy Park and watched the annual canoe regatta of the Olentangy Canoe Club. About 500 people participated in a day of events at the Columbus Country Club with golf and tennis tournaments in the afternoon and a dance and band concert in the evening.
 
An estimated 1,500 people attended the afternoon races at the Driving Park east of the city while another 2,000 sat on the grass on the Statehouse lawn for an evening concert. Many of the these people were undoubtedly looking for a place to sit after a long afternoon standing in front of the office of The Columbus Dispatch. Then located on North High Street at Gay Street, the Dispatch spent the afternoon with a large bulletin board and megaphone giving a crowd of more than 2,000 people a blow by blow account of the Las Vegas heavyweight boxing match between Jack Johnson and Jim Flynn. Jack Johnson won rather convincingly.
 
A large number of people used the Fourth to leave town altogether. About 10,000 people traveled east to Buckeye Lake to watch the annual regatta sponsored by the Buckeye Yacht Club. Some of the events were more formal like the men’s and women’s cat boat and sloop races. Others were less so. One newspaper later reported. “Paul Loving, Columbus broker, stood on a plank attached to a motorboat and was drawn through the water two miles without losing his balance.”
 
The Columbus, Delaware and Marion interurban line took 2,000 people to Glenmary Park north of the city another 500 to Greenwood Lake in Delaware. The Columbus, Urbana and Western took 4,000 people to Griggs Dam for the day.   
 
But the largest crowds in central Ohio traveled a short distance north and west of the city to a spot near the Arlington Golf Club to see the Motordrome. A newspaper reported, “The street cars during the earlier part of the afternoon were jammed far out onto the running boards, while hundreds stood in the intersections and saw car after car pass without being able to get on them.”
 
Many of the cars followed the line to Arlington until it ended along Fifth Avenue. From there people walked a short way on a newly oiled road to the newest attraction in central Ohio. The Motordrome was a wooden motorcycle racing arena with a 30 degree banked half mile track.
 
It was one of the first places of its kind in America and the four professional racers present that day achieved speeds in excess of 70 mph as they hurtled around the track. More than 18,000 people watched the afternoon races. After a “program of fireworks” at eight o’clock, 8, 000 people stayed to watch six more races. A local newspaper reported, “Owing to the fact that the motordrome is well lighted, the fast moving machines with their own lights will make a novel and exciting spectacle.”
 
It was a rather dramatic conclusion to a Safe and Sane Fourth of July.
 
Local historian Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek.

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