July 4, 2010

Celebrating 175 years: Racine rich in Fourth of July celebrations

This very rare view shows the July 4, 1872 parade, as it moved down 
Main Street just north of Monument Square. 

By Gerald L. Karwowski, RacineHistory.com 

It’s just around the corner and thousands of Racine folks are waiting to bring out their lawn chairs and fight their way down to the parade route to watch one of the biggest summer events: the annual Parade.

Why not? After all “everyone loves a parade,” and Racine has always had one of the best.

In 1861 the Legislature made July 4 a legal holiday and it was celebrated in Racine with enthusiasm. That year the festivities began with a 13-gun salute at sunrise. By 10 a.m. the procession of bands, fire companies and civic organizations began to form at West Public Square ( West Park). The parade made its way through the streets of downtown and ended at East Park where other activities were held. 

The 1876 the Fourth celebration included the laying of the cornerstone of Racine’s Centennial courthouse, along with a parade and fireworks. 

On July 4, 1884, Racine’s Hay Market Square became known as “Monument Square” 
following the dedication of the Civil War Soldier’s Memorial.

On July 4, 1884, Racine celebrated its first 50 years of history. Over 10,000 people gathered to view one of the grandest events in the early annals of Racine history. Schulte’s band headed the seven divisions of a  procession that was said to be two miles long. But it wasn’t only the parade that drew this throng of people to downtown Racine. It was the dedication of the Civil War Soldiers Monument in Racine’s public square and from that day on it became known as Monument Square.

Throughout the 1890s Racine continued its Independence Day spirit, with lovely floral parades and fireworks. But one of the most elaborate celebrations was held July 4, 1906. With William Horlick Jr. as chairman, the group formulated the idea of the Lingering Cousins Circus and the parade was dubbed the greatest show on earth. This mock circus was advertised as one of the wonders of the world and was the hit of the day. 

Frank K. Bull’s “Tally-ho and four” decorated for Fourth of July, 1904. 

The great Lingring Cousin’s “mock” Circus, after the parade doing 
a show on Monument Square, July 4, 1906. 

Another exceptional parade was the 1909 Home-Coming celebration. Racine was in its glory. The big manufactures were in a boom period and the city was growing leaps and bounds. The mayor at the time was A. J. Horlick and he was as civic-minded as they come. The celebration was held in conjunction with the July 4th celebration, with parades and programs and events on July 5th and 6th.

Through the 1910s and '20s Racine continued to celebrate July 4th in a regular fashion. However, that was to change in 1937, with the concept of the Goodwill Celebrations.

In April of 1937 Mayor Roy A Spencer called a group of about 25 leaders in the field of industry, labor and business. He felt a common project would help them bridge their differences, caused by strikes and labor unrest, and help them work together for a 4th of July celebration. The plan and parade was a success and ours is still one of the biggest and most colorful parades in Wisconsin. 

Symbolizing the 100th anniversary of Racine’s birth as a city, this white cake with 100 electrically- lighted candles led the Goodwill Centennial parade July 4, 1948.

On July 4, 1948, the City of Racine wished itself a rousing “Happy 100th Birthday” for the anniversary of Racine’s birth as a city, and also the centennial of the State of Wisconsin. The parade and fireworks ended the weeklong celebration. A few other highlights of the 1948 program were a “Made in Racine” industrial exposition, also the Freedom Train and a spectacular midsummer skiing event on Racine’s lakefront. The Racine Ski Club erected a ski jump and had 50 ski jumpers competing here on the 4th of July. The group had train carloads of snow brought in by rail from upper Canada for the event.

The rest of the story is easy because I was there, with the thousands of people watching the beautiful floats and marching bands making their way down Main Street. First sitting on my father’s shoulders and later with my friends up on the rooftops of Downtown . Today we all can still enjoy one of the finest parades in the world right here in Racine.