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Every Wednesday at 6:45 a.m., 8:45 a.m., and 5:45 p.m., we turn back the clock on WXPR with local historian Gary Entz to find out what life in the Northwoods used to be like. This is part of a new initiative by WXPR to tell the history and culture of northern Wisconsin.You can keep track of A Northwoods Moment in History and all of WXPR's local features on the WXPR Local Features podcast, wherever you get your podcasts.

Looking Back at the Fourth of July

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Wisconsin Historical Society
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Another Fourth of July holiday has come and gone.  It was a happy experience for almost everyone in the Northwoods.  A few people, though, yearn for the good old days when more potent fireworks were available. But did that make the holiday any better?  Historian Gary Entz looks back at early earlier Fourth of July celebrations.

A recent glance through a newspaper revealed this lament: “The small boy of today doesn’t know what he’s missing—though his father does.  For the Fourth of July ain’t what it used to be.  An American tradition—fireworks—is only a dim but fond memory in most of the country.”  That quotation came from 1955, which begs the question: what was so unacceptable about events sixty-six years ago that the writer felt it did not measure up to expectations?

In 1955, the Fourth of July celebration in Rhinelander was called the Hodag Log Jamboree.  It was a three-day festival that started on Saturday July second and culminated on the evening of the fourth.  Saturday events included afternoon playground contests for the children, evening dances for adults and teens, and a Rhinelander Lakers vs. Wausau Barons basketball game at Hodag Park.

Sunday was filled with activities and started with a morning golf tournament.  The Kiddie Parade went through downtown in the early afternoon.  The Main Parade came next after which many people went to watch a Junior American Legion baseball game in Hodag Park.  The evening saw a Logging Camp Flapjack Supper followed by a display of Native American dances in Hodag Park.  The day’s festivities concluded with a drum and bugle corps competition.

On Monday morning there were more playground contests for the youngest residents of the area.  For the adults, there was a trap shooting contest at the Hodag Sports Club rifle range.  In the afternoon everyone could go to the fairgrounds to enjoy a horse show, which included racing and riding competitions.  Of course, on the evening of the fourth the community enjoyed the annual fireworks show in Hodag Park.

If the writer who was disappointed in the events of 1955 could go back in time, this is what he would have found in the year 1900.  Everyone was awoken on the morning of the fourth by the firing of a cannon in downtown Rhinelander.  Downtown buildings were colorfully decorated with patriotic bunting as people gathered for the 9:00 am circus parade.  The parade formed at the old Soo Depot, traversed through downtown, and ended in the park where the main festivities took place.

People gathered to finish the morning by listening to literary readings and the bloviations of political orators.  The afternoon was filled with games and feats of strength and agility.  This included various types of foot races, bicycle races, and horse races.  There was also a biscuit eating contest.  The evening concluded with a lovely display of fireworks and a grand illuminated parade through downtown.

Fourth of July celebrations clearly were different for earlier Northwoods generations, but it is nothing to fret about.   This year Rhinelander’s Fourth of July theme was “Remember: United We Stand.”  Fourth of July events included a Kiddie Parade, a Firecracker 1K run, a main parade, and the evening fireworks show.  In addition, there were family gatherings throughout the Northwoods.  Fifty years from now, someone will no doubt lament that it ain’t like it used to be back when I was a kid in 2021.

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