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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

July 4, 1876

by April Chernoby

At sunrise, July 4th was ushered in with glorious style. Fortunately the rain clouds that hung ominously over the skies the previous night had cleared taking with it the stifling summer heat. On July 5th the Daily Eagle noted that the change in weather was heaven sent otherwise “a great many people might have seriously hurt themselves drinking ice water.” As dawn approached residences and visitors who were not already awakened by the excitement in the air opened their eyes to the sounds of “cannons firing, the ringing of bells and the screaming of steam whistles.”  The official program of the Fourth began at 10 o’clock in the morning with the grand procession through the streets of downtown. The parade began with the Police Department followed by several bands playing patriotic tunes. Uncle Sam proudly waved to on-lookers and an impersonation of General Washington and the Continental Army was furnished by the Grand Rapids Centennial Guard.  The Fire Department decorated their ladder wagons and Forepaugh’s Circus had elephants and other animals walking in the procession. The parade ended at the city park where Hon. T.B. Church addressed the public with a reflective speech on America’s Independence. Perhaps the most novel feature of the event was Uncle Sam’s reception at the park with Queen Victoria, King William, and the Emperor of China; it was rumored that the bank clerks impersonated Queen Victoria and her court. The event ended with a one-hundred gun salute to commemorate our nation’s independence.

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