Another Fourth of July is coming. For the 241st time, Americans commemorate and remember the signing of the Declaration of Independence, giving birth to our nation. Across the nation, folks will barbeque. Folks will enjoy fireworks. Folks will have fun. Folks who fall on every spot of the political spectrum. Folks with every shade of skin color. Of every economic level. Americans.
Galesburg is no exception, and as we look back through the decades, for more than 120 years, the folks of Galesburg have celebrated.
Twenty years ago, in 1997, Big Bang Boom at Lake Storey was similar to today. Galesburg resident Ron Noble helped set off the fireworks show at the lake, as he had for 11 years. This was the first year all the fireworks were set off using electronic controls.
“Our goal is to make it bigger every year and build to a super-colossal show in the year 2000,” Noble said at the time.
Cooler temperatures and a threat of rain kept crowds smaller than usual that year.
The Galesburg VFW and Galesburg Jaycees put together the festivities at Lake Storey in 1987. On the July 3, a cookout was held at the Galesburg American Legion. At the LULAC club, the Hispanic community celebrated at a dance. The Kensington had a seafood buffet. Local Boy Scouts lined Main Street with flags.
Forty years ago, in 1977, the festivities at Lake Storey were plentiful. A softball tournament went on all weekend. Then on Monday, July 4, leading up to the 9 p.m. fireworks, there was a watermelon seed-spitting contest, egg throw, canoe races, swimsuit contest, swimming races, junk car smash, antique car show, frisbee-throwing contest, penny carnival and live music.
Abingdon set off fireworks behind the new high school.
Folks behaved themselves at the lake for the most part, though many violated liquor laws by taking beer into the park. Sixteen-year-old Terresa Held of East Moline won the Ms. Fourth of July contest, with Debbie Hook, 19, of Galesburg and Peg Poulos, 20, of Knoxville as runner-ups.
In 1967, 50 years ago, the Jaycees announced there would be a Connie Mack baseball tournament on the fourth, concluding with the 8:30 p.m. fireworks on the south side of the lake.
There would be fireworks and a swimming ballet at Lake Bracken. Soangetaha Country Club held a golf tournament, a family buffet and a dance called the Firecrack Fling, as well as their own fireworks.
At Lake Storey, with the swimming and the picnics, there were raffle prizes given out all day, including a grand prize of an Admiral chest freezer.
The Register-Mail reported that about 13,000 attended festivities in Galesburg, but that was 9,000 less than the previous year. It was said that 22,000 attended during 95-degree temps in 1966, while it was only 68 degrees in 1967. About 8,000 went to Lake Storey, 3,000 at Lake Bracken, 1,200 at Soangetaha and almost 1,000 at Lincoln Park.
Another decade back, 1957, the Galesburg Junior Chamber of Commerce worked with the American Legion to put on Lake Storey festivities. A swimming and diving exhibition took place. There was a talent contest and an archery exhibition.
“Miss Fireworks” would be crowned. June Elliot represented the American Legion, Marge Cawkins was for the Eagles, and Jean Hix represented the Moose Lodge. The winner, Miss His, would receive a $250 wardrobe. She also had the honor of taking a boat across the lake to set off the first of the evening’s fireworks.
Lake Bracken was the site for a boat race.
Between 20,000 and 30,000 people attended at Lake Storey and Lincoln Park.
The year 1947 saw an amateur photography contest, a talent contest and live music by Clarence Wiegert and his orchestra. On July 3, you could attend a dance on the roof of the Weinberg Arcade, “up where the sky begins.” Ray Winegar and His Famous Band would play until 3 a.m. on the July 4, for the “Dawn Dance.”
There were motorcycle races at the half-mile track on U.S. Route 150, seven miles north of the Galesburg airport.
Golfing was popular at Lake Bracken and Soangetaha County Club. About 350 people golfed at Bunker Links, and 80 participated in a tournament at Soangetaha.
It was the first year that fireworks were set off at Lake Storey since 1941. The fireworks could best be viewed from the pavilion area, it was said. It was reported between 20,000 and 30,000 viewed the fireworks.
The 1937 festivities were not described in detail in The Register-Mail, but sales were aplenty in Galesburg. W.T. Grant’s had men’s wool swimming trunks for $1. The Piggly-Wiggly had three cans of pork and beans for 19 cents. Veal steak was 22 cents a pound. At Duncan Liquor Co., a case of Schlitz or Pabst beer was $2.49.
In 1927, at Lincoln Park, the American Legion sponsored festivities. There was a horseshoe pitching contest and a tug-of-war contest between two Legion posts. Live music and plenty of food was on hand. Fireworks were set off in a “grand display.” An estimated 30,000 attended Lincoln Park, despite an early morning rain.
Swimming, diving and boat races occurred at Lake Bracken. Soangetaha’s golf course was packed.
One-hundred years ago in Galesburg, during the midst of the Great War in 1917, was a quieter celebration. Fireworks were not as popular or as plentiful, and as the Evening-Mail reported, “there will be no great public displays of fireworks as there have been in the past in Galesburg.”
There would be amateur automobile racing at the District Fair Grounds, and golfing at Soangetaha.
The fourth went by, “safe and sane.”
The year 1907 was a busy one. A sunrise salute of gunshots by Battery B opened the morning. There was a street parade, burlesque circus and live music. A greased pig was chased on the square. A firemen’s exhibition was shown by the Galesburg Fire Department. Included was a “burning house.”
“A large house will be erected on the square,” advertisements read, “a man lies asleep in his bed, a burglar enters, attacks the man, sets fire to the house and escapes.” The fire department then rescued the man.
There were four vaudeville shows, a baseball game between Galesburg and Monmouth, and a boxing match between Patsy Hogan and Joe Scherer.
A “grand display of fireworks” ended the night at the square.
In 1897, the “grand celebration” was held at Lake George. There were balloon ascensions and parachute jumpers. Aquatic acrobats, people diving from an 80-foot tower into the lake, and tightrope walkers 75 feet above the lake all took part. There were races and live music. An exhibition of 70 snakes by Prof. Ralston was there.
“All to close with a beautiful pyrotechnic display, more glorious and extensive than anything heretofore attempted in this city,” advertisements said.
Talbot Fisher is weekend reporter for The Register-Mail. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on twitter at @TalbotFisher16