100 Years Ago: Fourth of July 1917

Berwin (my father), Anna and Margaret Webster posing at their parent’s home on Depot Street in Manchester NH, circa 1918.

On July 4th 1917 the World was at War. Just a week earlier, on June 26 the first 14,000 United States infantry troops had landed in France, and were beginning to train for combat.

The  local weather was temperate. The Nashua New Hampshire newspaper reported: “Temperature reading at the Indian Head National Bank today were: 8 a.m. 62; 12 noon 66; 3 p.m. 70.”

The local New Hampshire newspapers around the 4th were a strange mix of current news and promotions of family-oriented entertainment to celebrate the Fourth of July. The front page of the Nashua (NH) Telegraph included stories on the Russian offensive, American troops in Paris on parade, and a notice that a famed trench fighter named Oscar M. Flather would be visiting to give his insights into ‘modern warfare.’ 

Nashua Telegraph newspaper advertisement for Bing-Bang Guns, a noisemaker for the 4th of July, published 3 July 1917.

The celebrations were being promoted saying that the day “should be commemorated by every loyal American.” (So if you stayed home you obviously were suspect). Rice’s Drug Store was selling “Bing-Bang Guns” for 1c each, that were “noisy but harmless.” [Editor’s note: No, not big bang, Bing-Bang].

There was no newspaper on July 4th itself. By July 5th the focus was back to reporting on the unfolding war in Europe, and a tiny notice with the headline, “War Dept. Censorship Now On,” a reminder that the news was being censored, with all information coming on the cables were directed to Washington DC first, and then back to the Press Association.

The Derry (NH) newspaper was more local news and less on foreign events. One tidbit of interest was a notice of a gathering at Salem Depot for a flag raising and the article mentions “the members of the U.S. Army Engineer’s corps now in camp at Rockingham park, were represented by Col. Woulton, Capt. Clark of the medical corps, and several men….” Sure enough, the history of the Park mentions that: “• 1917: World War I, known as The Great War, raged across Europe. Rockingham Park served the American war effort as campsite for the 14th United States Army Engineers. Camp Rockingham was a bivouac site for the soldiers before they sailed to fight in France.”

I am sure that most cities, towns and villages of New Hampshire celebrated the day in some way, varying from flag raisings to chicken dinners.  In Nashua the focus seems to be on entertainment.  I am including the following newspaper notice because it would have been one local to my father who was a great motorcycle aficionado.  He would have only been at the tender age of 4-1/2 but perhaps his father took him to see these local races.

From the Nashua Telegraph [newspaper],  Tuesday July 3, 1917 [no paper on the 4th]

Even by the 1930s when this photograph was taken, the riding outfit for motorcyclists was minimally practical: a leather cap and eye goggles, dungarees, boots, a riding belt, and a long sleeved shirt. A jacket was added in cooler weather. Photograph of B.H. “Webby” Webster on Depot Street, Merrimack NH.

July Fourth Program at Fair Grounds: Motorcycle Races, Baseball Games and Other Sports.
The celebration at the Driving park on the Fourth will give Nashua people their fill of excitement and fun. A full day’s schedule of a baseball game of a team from the two shops of the Nashua Gummed and Coated Paper company and one from the Taylor and McElwain companies with a succession of thrilling motorcycle races has been arrange my Manager Henri Labine. A brass band will furnish music throughout the day. Over $300 in prizes will add to the speed of the races.
Following is the program for the day which starts at 10 a.m.:
. Ball game: 10 a.m. between Card Shop Nos. 1 and 2 and Taylors and McElwains for championship of the city.
. Five mile bicycle race over 25 entries; Marathon race, over 15 entries; 25 mile professional motorcycle race, give mile stock machine race, open to all amateur riders.
. Fifteen mile professional race, 100 yard dash, pie race, penny race, flour race, 10 mile professional race, side car race, open to all, amateurs and professionals.
. Entries for the professional races, The famous “Dare Devil” Donald Vantine, “The Pride of Manchester” Ted Morin;’ Manchester’s Dark Horse Louis Bouchard,  ‘Pete’ Forrest who cleaned up the Readville track; Peter Boulanger, Jack Abbott, Boyd Mercer who without any hard luck can clean them all up; Joe Gagnon, Fred James and Eddie Belrose.


[Editor’s Note: this story is part of an on-going series about heroic New Hampshire men and women of World War I.  Look here for the entire listing].


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3 Responses to 100 Years Ago: Fourth of July 1917

  1. Pingback: New Hampshire World War I Military: Heroes of The Great War | Cow Hampshire

  2. I really enjoyed this article! The descriptions brought the whole day to life.

  3. Amy says:

    Nice bit of nostalgia…Happy 4th!

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