What follows is a summary of Independence Day celebrations as recorded in Peabody newspaper articles, ads, and editorial comments throughout the years.
A comment on the direction the celebration has taken in the years since 1977 when a downtown riot occurred after the fireworks celebration concludes the article.
Peabody Gazette-Herald, June 29, 1916:
SPECTACULAR JULY FOURTH FEATURES
HORSE AND MOTORCYCLE RACES, BAND CONCERTS, GREASED PIG AND OTHER EVENTS
If you know where the Fourth of July committee can get a real wild pig — one that will do a little screeching — just inform G. S. Tucker, William Westbrook, or C.M. Nusbaum. They want to get a “can’t be tamed” Razorback to provide the greased pig part of the entertainment Fourth of July.
But Peabody is going to have a real Fourth of July Celebration. There will be something to do all the time from one o’clock in the afternoon until after the big fireworks display at night. Like everything else, even the style of fireworks has changed. This year the rockets and other forms of explosives will have a real military aspect. The war has had its effect.
The whole program is free.
At 8:30 p.m. July 4 the BIG SPECTACULAR FIREWORKS consisting of Prismatic Dragon, Floating Star, Searchlight, Bombshell, and Hanging Chin Rockets; Japanese Juggler Mine; 50 Shot Niagra Battery; and many others!
Peabody Gazette-Herald, July 1, 1918:
A quiet and safe Fourth here
The businesses will all be closed here all day. A good many folks will spend the day in J.B. Moore’s grove south of town — just two miles east of Elbing. There will also be a celebration in Peabody at night on the Presbyterian Church lawn.
Peabody Gazette-Herald, July 11, 1918:
Fourth of July
The rain last Thursday evening was welcomed by all, but it interfered seriously with the Fourth of July celebration. It was necessary to hold the meeting in the Presbyterian Church and the church was well-filled. The ladies of the Red Cross and some members of the National Guard were guests.
Major Jolliffe presided with a few well-chosen remarks. A quartet of Mrs. Appleby, Mrs. Slaymaker, Mr. C.M. Nusbaum, and Mr. John Griffiths led in the singing of patriotic songs and Mrs. Appleby sang a beautiful solo.
The address of the evening was delivered by the Reverand W.O. Livingston of Marion. It was remarkable in its strength, scope, and its eloquence.
This celebration was in sharp contrast to those of other years because of its quietness and the absence of the usual spectacular features, but all those present felt it was profitable, inspiring, and uplifting.
(There is no mention of a Peabody Celebration until 1928)
Peabody Gazette-Herald, June 26, 1919:
Appearing in an ad:
Hear the Eagle Scream at Marion
FRIDAY, JULY 4, 1919
Government aeroplane will fly from 8 a.m. to 12 noon. Family picnic dinner at Central Park in Marion. Adults’ and Boys’ races, sports, baseball games, band concert, moving pictures, dance, and all free!! Come!!
Peabody Gazette-Herald, June 15, 1922:
Peabody will have no Fourth celebration this year
Last year there was a celebration and a number of the men consulted believed in not celebrating every year, but when a celebration is held, to do it up right.
Florence will celebrate this year.
Peabody Gazette-Herald, June 29, 1922:
Appearing in ads:
Tucker and Griffith will close all day July 4
The ball team will play in Newton
Fireworks, flags, and bunting at the Racket.
Peabody Gazette-Herald, June 28, 1923:
Quiet Fourth this year
Fourth of July will be rather quiet in Peabody this year with no celebration planned. Many, however, who like a quiet Fourth are planning picnic parties in City Park.
The Peabody band will go to Marion and the ball team is not scheduled to play that day. Stores will be closed all day.
Appearing in an ad:
HEY KIDS!! Get a Squawker on Fourth of July morning at Gephart Filling Station.
Peabody Gazette-Herald, July 1, 1926:
4th on Sunday
Banks, P.O. and stores closed July 5 — official day of celebration.
Peabody Gazette-Herald, July 5, 1928:
Peabody will have fireworks display
Peabody business and professional men decided Saturday that it would be mighty fine if Peabody could have a fireworks display at City Park on July 4. A self-appointed committee of Ray West and Charlie Marsh got busy with a subscription paper with the result that a sufficient amount was soon subscribed to assure a magnificent display and the order was placed by telephone. No attempt has been made at any other celebration, but it is planned for everybody who is here that evening to gather at City Park at 9 p.m. to witness the spectacle.
47 businesses are listed as donors.
Appearing in a 1/4 page ad:
Largest and best ever display here for ALL who will come and enjoy our spectacle! Don’t miss it! Signed, The Citizens Committee
Peabody Gazette-Herald, June 20, 1929:
Fireworks on the Fourth
Peabody will celebrate in a safe and sane manner
Arrangements have been completed for the celebration of the Fourth of July in Peabody this year along the line observed last year. The Kiwanis Club is sponsoring a fireworks display in the evening.
Businessmen of Peabody have contributed to the fireworks fund generously and it is safe to say that we will have a display well worth coming in to witness. Fireworks will be free to everyone.
Peabody Gazette-Herald, June 18, 1931:
Peabody to observe the nation’s birthday
The Fourth of July committee appointed last week reported at the meeting Tuesday night that sufficient funds had been raised to ensure a free ballgame and a magnificent fireworks display for Peabody July 4.
The committee was to proceed with details and bring the proposed observance to a successful determination.
Peabody wants everyone to come and be her guest for the afternoon and evening.
Appearing in an Ad:
BIG SUNRISE DANCE
From 12:30 a.m. July 3 to sun-up July 4.
AL STOVALL AND HIS IMPERIAL BAND playing —COME ON OUT—LET’S MAKE WHOOPPEE!!
Peabody Gazette-Herald, July 9, 1931:
Largest crowd ever
What was probably the largest crowd we have had in years on similar occasions, gathered at City Park last Saturday to witness the display of fireworks.
A count of cars that left the park was 1,406, which with those that left early and another 100 or more parked outside the gate brings the total to well over 1,600. That is a lot of automobiles to be gathered in one place.
It was a fine fireworks display and as far as we know everybody was satisfied with it.
Peabody Gazette-Herald, July 5, 1932:
Celebration a success
Peabody’s celebration was a huge success in every way.
It was the largest crowd Peabody has had with estimates at 6,000.
Twenty-three Kansas counties were represented by a tally of the auto tags on the cars in the park.
Peabody Gazette-Herald, July6, 1933:
Gets bigger and better
What started a few years ago with a comparatively small display of fireworks in the evening for the home folks, has developed and enlarged each year until it is the largest event of its kind in this section of the state.
The crowd was estimated at 12,000, which is by far the largest crowd Peabody has ever had.
But it was an orderly crowd, not an arrest being made the entire day.
Peabody Gazette-Herald, July 12, 1934:
Seems to get bigger every year
Attendance estimates topped 15,000.
Probably the most impressive sight other than the fireworks was the sight of the multitudes feeding themselves at various picnics all over City Park.
It is estimated there were at least 3,000 chickens devoured at the evening meal.
Peabody Gazette-Herald, July 7, 1938:
Enormous crowd at celebration
Before another Fourth, arrangements should be made for more exits to permit the autos to get out of the park faster. Crowd estimate was near 20,000 people.
But it was a great day for Peabody and everybody is happy about it.
It seems to be the opinion of the committee that next year something never done in the past should be attempted. A float parade in the morning, swings and rides during the day, free acts to entertain during the day.
A harvest hand celebrating the grand and glorious Fourth, boarded the Santa Fe Chief Saturday night and tried to take possession of the engine. He was subdued by trainmen and turned over to officers.
Peabody Gazette-Herald, June 25, 1942:
Annual celebration will be in City Park
Starting with the “Bombing of the City” at 6 a.m. and continuing through the day, there will be something going on all of the time.
Fireworks in the displays were made in China—one of our allies in the war and the chemicals and explosives used in them are entirely useless as far as their use in war munitions is concerned.
With harvest so late and the tire rationing situation what it is, the Fourth committee is not expecting a crowd that will compete in size with previous years.
Peabody Gazette-Herald, July 6, 1944:
Another successful event now in the past
A crowd, the size of which surprised everyone, considering we have gasoline and tire rationing, was still in attendance for the spectacular display.
Next year it is the hope of everyone that the annual Fourth of July celebration will be a Peace Time Celebration again.
Peabody Gazette-Herald, June 29, 1950:
Everyone invited to Peabody
Airplane rides may be had at any time during the entire day. Planes will land and take off in the DeForest pasture east of town on the highway for $1.50.
Peabody Gazette-Herald, July 6, 1950:
Crowd estimated at 25,000 jam Peabody
Chamber of Commerce officials were highly pleased at the success of the 27th annual celebration.
Jack Whisler was chairman of the fireworks committee and most ably assisted by George Higgins, Orville Haas, Ernest Beeton, Ronald Gaines, and several others.
City Park was jammed full and folks used the Rock Island tracks as bleacher seats, filled for at least three blocks.
Peabody Gazette-Herald, July 7, 1955:
Great crowds descended on park for show
Billed as the “Largest free fireworks show in Kansas,” the Chamber of Commerce fireworks and ground displays were improved this year to the point where Whisler and crew will be hard put to better the show next year.
Peabody Gazette-Herald, June 29, 1961:
90th Birthday Edition
A three-day Pioneer Days Celebration beginning July 2 will include the dedication of the original Peabody Library as the new museum, a “90 Wonderful Years Pageant” at the park, parade, all-schools reunion, and of course, a spectacular fireworks show.
The following week, editor Bill Krause noted the fireworks “thrilled 15,000 to 20,000 people,” and “it was a celebration we will long and longingly remember.”
Peabody Gazette-Herald, July 8, 1965:
Celebration will be July 5
This year’s celebration featured 18 set pieces and an array of exceptionally fine sky shells and salutes.
Because of harvest, the crowd came in late this year. Temperatures were in the 80s and rain stayed away until after the celebration.
Peabody Gazette-Herald, July 1971:
Peabody Centennial Issue
Crowds were on hand for all events and estimates hit about 40,000 for the fireworks show.
Bill Krause opinion column noted, “Seems as if we ought to say something about the Centennial Celebration, but it has just about all been said. It was quite a party, the weather cooperated — and the Old Editor won a cup of coffee from Centennial Chief Whisler on a bet that Jack would lose at least 14 pounds during the Centennial.”
Peabody Gazette-Herald, July 10, 1975:
July 4th starts America’s Bicentennial year — Our 200th Anniversary
The 1975 celebration is one for the books. It seemed more low key — everyone seemed to be looking forward to an extra special celebration in 1976.
Peabody Gazette-Bulletin, July 8, 1976:
Largest crowd in history here Monday
Bicentennial celebration a huge success
Another celebration spread over many days and made up of many events.
Peabody Gazette-Bulletin, July 7, 1977:
Riot mars Fourth celebration
The Fourth of July celebration was blemished by a drunken riot that swirled around downtown after midnight, causing arrests and stern police action to break it up.
The group began gathering after the activities in City Park died down and soon 75 to 100 mostly young people were milling around, drinking on the street, fighting, and generally misbehaving. Rocks, cans, and bottles were thrown although no injuries or property damage was reported.
Finally, the situation got so bad that the police were forced to use tear gas and move in to clear the streets.
Festival organizers with the Chamber of Commerce and Jaycees had sought to tone down the celebration and the crowd in attendance was much smaller than last year, estimated at only 12,000.
Residents of Peabody and surrounding areas enjoyed what should be the last Fourth of July celebration to be held here for a long time. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
Commentary on direction of the event in the past 20 years
Following the 1977 incident, the organizers of the celebration scaled back events, banned alcohol from the park, and encouraged locally sponsored events with emphasis on family activities.
The years of 10,000 to 30,000 in attendance were over, and have never returned.
In addition, technology began working its way into fireworks productions, reducing the need for large crews of volunteers to create and fire them.
Where once Peabody was the only place around to have an extravagant fireworks show, many communities were suddenly doing the same thing.
Through the 1980s and ’90s the attendance leveled off to 3,000 to 5,000 annually; generally depending on the day of the week on which the Fourth fell.
By 2000, the younger production crew decided to keep the same old-fashioned flavor the set pieces and aerial displays have always had. They still are built and fired by hand. Only the famed “Battle of New Orleans” finale is fired by remote control.
Peabody on the Fourth of July has retained its small town flavor and no longer seeks headlines that claim “the largest crowd ever” packed the park.