Odd Bits of Past July Fourths

Mayor Robert Martin with banded staff and President of Borough Council, Bob Smyth

The July 4th post, How did Riverton’s “Glorious Fourth” start? referred to a number of July Fourth traditions which Mrs. Betty B. Hahle explained in her classic series of “Yesterday” columns published over her four decades of research and writing for the Historical Society of Riverton. I omitted her explanation of one longstanding parade tradition—the Mayor’s walking staff— until I could make certain of its status. As any observant parade spectator has noticed throughout the years, the Mayor always holds a long cane ringed with dozens of silver-colored bands as he or she walks.

Consider the above photograph of current Mayor Robert Martin with said walking staff.

To further explain the origin of this tradition, read below the complete text of our recently passed Town Historian’s “Yesterday” column from the September 1997 issue of Gaslight News entitled, “A Cane’s Name.”

A Cane’s Name

History is not static, as some might think. A different interpretation, or the discovery of new materials can change a historical concept at any time. And slightly different accounts of an event provoke questions of which is accurate; age, perspective and re-telling all influence the development of a legend.

In 1965 Riverton Yacht Club published a Centennial Booklet that contained two pages of memoirs of Ogden Mattis, an active member for many years. He also suppled a photograph of an early 4th of July Parade that was published with the caption “the Marshall’s baton is a Calcutta Cane brought from India by Og Mattis’ grandfather.”

The grandfather referred to was Louis Corner, who had come to Riverton from England circa 1863, and lived on Main Street.

Recently Sally Jane Mattis shared with me something her husband, George, had written in the late 1930s, when he was a student at Palmyra High School. A requirement of Miss Edna Ziegler’s Senior English class was the student’s autobiography. In his, George had written that his great-grandfather, Louis Corner, born in England…“travelled abroad many times visiting his parents and foreign countries.

On one visit to Switzerland in 1897 he brought back two Alpine Sticks and presented them to the town for the purpose of recording year by year the number of children in the annual parade on 4th of July… by placing silver bands on them…”.

We know that various kinds of walking sticks were popular in the late 19th century, and both records agree on who brought back the cane (s) that are a part of Riverton’s traditional 4th of July Parade. At first the Marshall carried the cane, but for many years now it is the Mayor who carries it. A silver band bearing the year, mayors name, and number of children participating that year is added to the cane after the event. In 1952 the last band that would fit on the original cane was placed on it, and 1953 started a new cane. Since 1958 the bands are of stainless steel instead of silver.

Another Corner legend about the 4th of July Parade is that Louis Corner’s young nephew, George, led the first Parade, in 1897. The Mt. Holly Herald carried a detailed account of the 1898 Parade, which said that it “was led by two 3-year-olds, George Corner, dressed as Uncle Sam, and Clarice Frishmuth, dressed as the Goddess of Liberty.” They were followed by ten little boys in Dewey suits (for the recent Dewey victory) and then by 250 children parading. (Gaslight News 1986, vol. 12 #4, told that story) There was no mention of a Marshall or of his baton. Would it have been called a Calcutta Cane or an Alpine Stick, if it had been described that day? – BBH

As the above photo of Mayor Martin shows, the tradition persists of adding a band to the cane each year engraved with the number of children in the parade. According to Phyllis Goffredo Rodgers, the official kid-counter for the past several years, the number this year was 185, about a half of last year’s showing and a fraction of the 600 tallied in 1908.

Frank Mills’ plane, 1923
undated photo – plane in Delaware at Riverton

 

 

 

 

 

Scouring my hard drive for other references to that July 4th airplane drop of paper tokens good for penny candy resulted in the above scanned image of a stereograph from the collection of Mrs. Elsie Waters with the caption, “Frank Mills’ Plane, 1923” and a scan of an undated photo from the collection of recently elected HSR Board Director Mr. Ed Gilmore. Elsie told me that it was Frank Mills who gave airplane rides for a fee, but I’ll have to confirm with her (or another reader) if he is the one who dropped the penny candy vouchers and if it was done for more than just the year 1921. Regular readers may recall that Mrs. Hahle reported on such a paper shield penny voucher plane drop for the year 1920. So far I have been unable to account for the difference in dates. Further, can any aircraft expert determine if the plane in Elsie’s stereograph and Ed’s photo are the same?

1920 Fourth of July Celebration Program

Segue to this 7.28MB PDF file of a 1920 Fourth of July Celebration Program that almost got away. The original once belonged to Mrs. Mary Jane Mento, widow of Mr. Danny Mento, a popular local musician. When she passed away, her daughter living in the South inherited it, and she placed it on an eBay auction. Gerald Blaney, a recent homeowner transplant from Palmyra to Riverton and very keen on local history, prevailed as high bidder and has generously allowed the use of the image seen here. Would that all such great finds be shared with the community by such altruistic persons.

THEN – Riverton Fire Department 1925
NOW – Three Generations of Dorworths 2011

Classic cars and fire engines are always a part of the parade. Here’s an old one from 1925, again from Elsie’s stereograph collection, and a recent 2011 pic of Riverton Fireman Charles Dorworth with his daughter Nicole taking advantage of a photo op with her husband and son in the driver’s seat of Riverton’s 2005 Pierce 100 foot ladder apparatus, or “fire truck” to us civilians. The RFD, established 1890, is a respected institution with its own historic past which you can visit at this website link.

military unit in undated parade photo

 

undated July 4th parade photo
Although undated, Mr. Gilmore’s set of remarkably well-preserved photos may each have been taken around the same time. Another one, presumably from the same parade, shows what must be the mayor holding the cane with the silver bands. Are there any who history sleuths would care to deduce a date for the Gilmore photos? If you have a theory, please send it in.

Readers, please leave a comment, criticism, or even a correction, lest how else am I to get the record set straight? “Like” us on Facebook and tell your friends and family, whether local or across the miles, about the rivertonhistory.com website. With increasing visitor counts and membership support comes a greater chance to “connect the dots” and make sense of the separate pieces of our individual collections of artifacts, collectibles, and ephemera. – John McCormick, Gaslight News editor

 

How did Riverton’s “Glorious Fourth” start?

The New Leaf ready for the 4th
Is there anything that evokes memories of Riverton more than its Fourth of July celebrations? Part parade, part family reunion, picnic, 5K run, field day, soap box derby, and crazy raft races on the Delaware River, Rivertonians of all ages look forward in anticipation to another one of this borough’s old-fashioned fun-packed Independence Day celebrations.

 

Former Rivertonians from near and far return for the event to re-connect with family and friends. The grand parade includes homemade floats, a Pet Pageant, kids with decorated bikes and wagons, classic autos, marching bands, musical groups, and military units. Throughout the town homeowners proudly display American flags and patriotic bunting.  A parade route lined with hundreds of exuberant spectators attired in patriotic dress completes this Norman Rockwellian masterpiece. But Riverton’s Fourth of July observances were not always so spectacular.

The approaching festivities are all the excuse this former Riverton School history teacher needs to examine the beginnings of what the 1892 New Jersey Mirror was calling over 100 years ago “Riverton’s Glorious Fourth.”

I again defer to the research of our Town Historian, Mrs. Betty B. Hahle, who recently passed away after devoting many years to discovering and preserving Riverton’s past. From the May 1981 Gaslight News comes this origin story of this 114th Riverton Fourth of July Children’s Parade. As she wished, the excerpts below are copied as she wrote them:

“… July’s celebration in the growing village of Riverton was soon being called ‘Riverton’s Glorious Fourth’. In 1892 newspaper reports said ‘the quiet Quaker town put on holiday attire…’ and described the yachts and all smaller boats decked out with flags of all nations, and the competition among home owners in decorating their homes. That year the 28th annual Regatta at the Yacht Club was held. Celebrations focused on the children’s flag parade and on athletic events as well. … Wheelmen’s Clubs were formed, and meets became a part of the growing interest in athletic events. Riverton’s team used a track on Fulton street, below the railroad, and then a larger one above the railroad, whete Lippincott, Thomas, and 7th streets are today. June of 1894 saw the new track completed there, in time for the riders to begin training for the big meet on July 4th.”

Riverton Yacht Club 6-29-2011

Betty’s “Yesterday” column in the May 1986 Gaslight News reveals another chapter in the holiday’s development:

“And Summer soon follows…wooden tubs of Crane’s ice cream, packed in chunks of ice and delivered by steamer from Philadelphia to the Riverton pier. And then…the Fourth of July!

The Lawn House, located at the corner of Penn Street, and the river bank, was for many years, the summer rendezvous for members of society in this section. Numerous guests from Philadelphia, New York and other points, spent the entire summer at this well-known hostelry.

In 1886 Riverton celebrated the Fourth ‘in the old fashioned way, with houses decorated with bunting and flags…and lighted with Chinese Lanterns’.  The Chinese Lanterns at the Lynch home, 2nd & Main, merited special note.  Races at the Yacht Club had to be called off because of lack of wind, so pair-cared scull races ware substituted. Winners were Lawrence and Haines Lippincott.  The Lawn House had some activities, and then the Calico Club paraded around town.

It was in 1897 that Charles W. Davis and Albert Briggs had the idea of a children’s parade for the celebration, and the Yacht Club liked the idea and set it in motion. The parade formed at the Roberts store on the point, each child was presented with a silk flag, and all preceded to the riverbank, where singing and oration followed. Acquatic events and then fireworks ended the day.

Robert's Store

The next year more than 250 children were in the parade, headed by the Metropolitan Band of Burlington. An article describing the day said that two 3-year-olds, Georgie Corner, dressed as Uncle Sam, and Clarice Frishmuth, as Goddess of Liberty, led the whole procession.  Then there were 30 little boys, dressed in Dewey suits (the Spanish fleet had just been destroyed) and commanded by Captain Walter Wright, who had been drilling them for 2 weeks.  Then came the 250 children with their silk flags, ‘prettily costumed’.  At the riverbank, Rev. Charles Kevin, son-in-law of the 1st mayor of Riverton, gave an inspiring address.  And evening fireworks climaxed the day.

In 1908 there was threatening weather–but some 600 children marched in the parade, led by Mayor Brown and Chief of Police Major, and the Metropolitan Band.  1932’s parade had a special feature: two of the marching Riverton Firemen wore fire hats that had been donated by L. A. Flanagan.  They had been worn ca. 1842 by members of his family in Philadelphia, and bore the date of 1800, the year of their Fire Company’s founding.

The Grove, Palmyra, NJ 1938

By the 1940’s and ’50’s the children’s athletic events in the Park took up most of the afternoon, with relays, sack, potato, 3-legged, and other races for various age groups, and prizes of skates, cameras, rings, and other things donated by local merchants.  And free refreshments for all the children (from Riverton).  Palmyra had its children’s events in the Grove, and often included a Punch-and-Judy show, then joined Riverton for fireworks on the riverbank.

 

Time brought some changes, but ‘Riverton’s Glorious Fourth’ became a well-established tradition, a day of shared activities, family gatherings, reunions with former residents and friends.  In 1964 wooden wash-tub races and tilting were scheduled again, for the first time in some years.  Floats were popular: some were individual, some were group entries; all showed imagination, enthusiasm, and many, many hours of work.  The Porch Club, in 1965, had a large platform truck made to look like a front porch, with ladies in costume and seated in rocking chairs depicting a meeting in 1890.  John Parker had made a large float of the Yacht Club; Frank Lockhart and Charles Foster made a large replica of Barnegat Lighthouse; and the Parry family celebrated the New Era’s 75th year of publication with scenes of their office as it was in 1890.

For a few years there were no fireworks to climax our Fourth of July celebrations, although other traditional activities continued.  They were welcomed back enthusiastically recently, at the Park instead of the Riverbank—and once again the Fourth ended spectacularly.”

Riverton has a long history of honoring men and women who have served in the armed forces as this August 1983 installment of “Yesterday” reports:

WWI signet ring top

“Memorial Park was dedicated on July 4, 1931.  It had been a long while coming…after WW I an athletic field was decided upon, as a fitting memorial to those who had given their lives in service to our country, and to those who had returned. After many delays, a part of the Dreer property above the railroad was purchased from the company, and the Park was realized. Killam Bennett was Mayor when the land was purchased, and Howard Rogers was Mayor at its dedication.  A decade prior to this 100 men and women who were veterans from Riverton were presented with rings, chosen by a Citizens’ Committee headed by Edward Flagg jr. Their names were published in the New Era.  (Anyone have, or know of, one of these rings today?)”

July 4 1921 - leaflet dropped from plane

This series of Betty Hahle’s “Yesterday” columns from past issues of the Gaslight News concludes with this anecdote from February 1982 and a most endearing photograph loaned by Mrs. Elsie Waters.

“A shield-shaped card in red, white, and blue from a 1920* Riverton Fourth, and a photograph showing children scrambling for the cards along the riverbank turned thoughts to warmer weather. The cards were dropped from a low-flying plane, and entitled the bearer to a 1¢ purchase at the stores of Theodore Schneider, John Adolph, or D.D. Bastion.”

July 4 1921 - children on riverbank

Certainly, today’s events are the ones that historians will study tomorrow. Help document the next chapter in this chronicle by adding your “Glorious Fourth” recollection from the past or present to this archive. You can find us on Facebook, too. Remember, folks, these are the good ol’ days.  – John McCormick, Gaslight News editor

* Betty’s article states “1920” for the airplane story and Elsie’s paper token shows “1921.” I do not know for how many years the tokens were dropped.

P.S. For any Rivertonians who could not make it back for the parade this year, here is a link to the official site for the Riverton Fourth of July Committee so you can see all of the awesome activities that those dedicated volunteers have come up with for this year’s “Glorious Fourth.” You can download the a PDF file of this year’s whole program if you wish.