Month: June 2019

Building a Nation: Fourth of July 1908

oklahomaThe central event of the 1908 Philadelphia Fourth of July celebrations, reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer, was “The presentation of an American flag by Philadelphia to the Baby State of the Union, Oklahoma, and a reciprocal presentation to this city.”

Oklahoma had voted to become the 46th state in November, 1907. When its representatives came East, to be welcomed at the “seat of American Independence” for their first American Fourth of July, the festival “Chairman Frank W. Lambrith…pointed to the clicking telegraph instrument ready to keep them in touch” via the latest technology, with crowds gathered 1,367 miles away in Guthrie, Oklahoma.

Festivities began with “a delegation of citizens from the new state, occupying a conspicuous place on the platform,” along with “a number of descendants of the signers of the Declaration. Both delegations proceeded to Independence Hall with a military escort.”

 Representatives of different religious and civic groups across Philadelphia – what would, in 1908, have been considered an exemplary diversity — were invited to participate, starting with Rabbi Martin Nathans, of Beth Israel Synagogue, who delivered the opening prayer, followed by songs from the Matthew Baldwin School Chorus.

 A series of back-and-forth Oklahoma  telegrams provided live commentary: “’Guthrie wants to know what we are doing,’ called Chairman Lambrith, looking at a telegram, and we have telegraphed back: ‘We are raising over Independence Hall the flag that will be given to Oklahoma.’ Oklahoma clicked back: ‘Very good.’”

 The celebration continued, as “Rev. C. Edgar Adamson, of St. Paul’s M.E. Church, invited all to rise and repeat the Lord’s Prayer….Then came the battle-scarred Oklahoman, (Civil War)  Col. T.H. Soward, who stepped to the front on his crutch to be greeted by tremendous cheering…His expressions of the Western peoples’ love for Independence Hall, and their wonder whether the people who had it in their keeping really understood how they loved it, thrilled his auditors…” He proclaimed “that the Liberty Bell spoke…not only to our own countrymen, but…the world is hearing and heeding the Cry of Liberty…”

 A graduate of Boys’ Central High School read aloud The Declaration of Independence, then a descendant of one of its Signers delivered a speech, and State flags were exchanged. “Then there were a few minutes of holding of watches, waiting for the first stroke of 12 o’clock. At the first call of the Bell, Mayor Reyburn clicked the telegraph to Guthrie and the salutes were fired and the bands and people began to render “The Star- Spangled Banner” in Philadelphia and Guthrie at once.

 After several minutes of joyous noises during forty-six strokes of the (Liberty) Bell, the people gathered into silence again and Rev. Joseph A. Whitaker of St. Francis de Sales pronounced the benediction.” (Bet you were wondering when Saint Francis de Sales Parish would come into the story!).



1940 Summer Party

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The notes for the Saint Francis de Sales Summer Festival in 1940, the year of  the Golden Jubilee, provide interesting clues about parish life, long ago.

The party took place in the Parish parking lot on June 6, 7, 8 and June 13, 14, and 15, with “fancy goods, groceries, refreshments, recordings every night, ice cream, cakes and candy, novelties, games, and specialties, ” and the big attraction: the raffle of two 1940 Chevrolets, proudly displayed on the Rectory lawn.

Preparations involved a certain amount of arm twisting:  all parishioners were expected to sell books of raffle tickets, and sales were meticulously tallied, compared, and publicized per block and by parishioner. High school students were instructed that “Every time you dispose of a book, you receive credit for a Social Contribution to the High School Tuition.” Families were directed “to visit the Party at least one night each week.”

Notes from the wrapup hint at the size of the event and some neighborhood disruption: “We are well aware of the traffic on Springfield Avenue. Here is an interesting note: automobiles from eleven different states (including California) stopped to secure chances on our Grand Awards.” Traffic tangles, could, in part, have been due to assertive raffle ticket-selling: “No doubt you noticed the gentleman who sold chances in front of the Rectory. We are grateful to Mr. Martin Gillane for his services. We compliment him on the money secured by his work, Two Hundred Ninety-four Dollars and Ten Cents.” (That would have been 2,941 ten cent tickets!)

Did “Fancy Goods” (probably homemade crafts) fail to sell? A carefully-worded news item suggests some frantic behind-the-scenes efforts to increase revenue: “With very little time to prepare, the Fancy Goods table presented a mighty fine Card Party for the Summer Party Fund. We are grateful to these Ladies for the magnificent sum of One Hundred and Seventy-five Dollars, and we compliment them on the orderly manner in which their Party was conducted.

The Main Event was, of course, the raffle of the two 1940 Chevrolets, and the youthful winner likely caused some mirth (and envy): “The Summer Party Automobiles were awarded to Mrs. Clara Randolph of Upper Darby, and Master Allen Smith, 1123 Divinity Street. Master Smith is in the second grade of our School.

In the end, the Rectory commented: “We are most pleased and gratified…that the Summer Party will bring us more than Seven Thousand Six Hundred Dollars” for Jubilee-related repairs and renovations (mostly cleaning of  walls and updated lighting) – through the efforts of 396 workers, including adult parishioners, High School students, the Boys’ Battalion and Girls’ Corps (military-style organizations for parish children – precursors to Boy and Girl Scouts).  The report concluded: “With the help of God, with continued interest and co-operation, we shall complete our plans for a joyful celebration of our Golden Jubilee in the Fall.”

Why was God’s help invoked? The Great Depression had just ended with the beginning of World War II in Europe, but the parish was in debt and tension and uncertainty were in the air.  Reading between the lines, the carefully repeated insistence that among the volunteers “there was always close harmony. Everywhere there was goodwill. All of these speak for Parish Pride….” suggests, perhaps, some strategic optimism. Long-ago parishioners are often invested with halos, but perhaps they weren’t yet angels after all!