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It rained on their parade

The Fourth of July celebration was a little too wet for comfort, but even so, a great time was had by all.

Oh, wait a minute. You’re probably thinking about yesterday. No, no. This was the grand 4th of July celebration of 1895.

And, believe it or not, it rained on their parade.

“Gee, whizz!” said a Medford Mail reporter, “A Fourth of July in fur coats and umbrellas is a thing very out of the ordinary for Southern Oregon. It might be expected in Alaska, where the thawing process does not commence until August, but here it’s a vastly different thing.”

Farmers began splashing in through the intermittent pouring rain as early as 7:30 in the morning, and, by 10:00, along with the city folk, there were at least 6,000 people in Medford, nearly half the population of Jackson County.

Drenched residents drank hot coffee instead of cooling lemonade, and ate pretzels instead of the usual ice cream treat. Yet, even with the muddy streets and splattering showers, there was still merriment and fun.

“It was a hard struggle,” the reporter said, “to look pleasant while we dodged about between the showers and scattered to seek the shelter of a friendly evergreen bow.”

Even with this wet blanket of moisture, nothing would stop the parade.

“We Medford people,” the reporter said, “buttoned our fur coats, hoisted our waterproof umbrellas, and gave the signal to march.”

First came the carriages of local dignitaries, followed closely by the Ashland Silver Cornet band. These were the days when Medford and Ashland would take turns hosting the 4th celebration, and Jacksonville stubbornly conducted their own.

The local National Guard unit marched in front of the “Liberty Car,” four horses pulling a wagon loaded with 45 young girls, each dressed in white and wearing a banner bearing the names of all 45 states of the 1895 Union. Overlooking them all, Etta Medynski portrayed the “Goddess of Liberty,” clothed in white, wearing a gold crown, and looking much like the Statue of Liberty.

A chariot pulled by four horses and expertly handled by the “Angel of Peace,” Mrs. Nettie Barneburg, followed the girls. Nettie was also dressed in pure white and wearing a gold crown. The Angel and the Goddess were always features of every Independence Day parade from the beginning of those early pioneer days.

Perhaps as many as 100 men and women sloshed through the mud, riding the country’s latest fad — bicycles. Their spokes were laced in a solid mass of flowers, flags, bunting and mud. There were clowns, and marching tunes from the Medford High School band. Dozens of Studebaker wagons advertised many of the town’s businesses.

“It was” said the reporter, “a line of beauty, grandeur and gorgeousness — and the ridiculous.”

The parade ended at the city park, today’s Alba Park, where the most solemn and traditional part of a pioneer 4th of July celebration was held — the reading of the Declaration of Independence.

After patriotic band music and a prayer, Genevieve Reames, daughter of banker Thomas Reames, who had died barely four months earlier, stepped forward and delivered her reading, “in a most masterly manner — truly an elocutionist of great ability.”

In the afternoon, there were bicycle and foot races, a dance, and a chance to ride the uncovered merry-go-round with the rain still falling down.

When the rain subsided, the evening dance and festivities were brightly lit with electric lights powered by the recently constructed electric plant, and also by fireworks exploding in the sky.

“While it is a fact that the rain prevented the planned program to be entirely carried out,” the reporter said, “there were few, if any, who did not enjoy the day.”

Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.