Wednesday, July 3, 2013

July 4: Our "grandiose" celebration

ABOVE: Ladies liberty, A star-spangled 1908 July 4th float in Huntington Beach.  (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

   A tradition since 1904, the Huntington Beach July 4th parade is billed as the largest west of the Mississippi.  Adopting this day as our own prior to the City's incorporation in 1909, July 4th has featured some pretty spectacular stunts and events.

   Fireworks were a part of early celebrations, the 1905 and 1910 shows known to have been provided by the Japanese community in nearby Wintersburg Village.  The 1905 fireworks show was held on a baseball field in the downtown, most likely the site of Main Street's Triangle Park (which had a field and held night baseball games).  

The Huntington Beach baseball team, circa 1910, part of the Orange County baseball league and a featured attraction on July 4.  Huntington Beach's first mayor, Ed Manning, was the team's manager.  (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

   Five years after the first fireworks show, the growing village of Huntington Beach added to local attractions with the saltwater plunge and bathhouse near the pier. 

Notes found in the Orange County Archives.

   For the 1909 celebration, the first year of Huntington Beach's incorporation, the Los Angeles Herald reported the day's events:
  • 10 a.m. - Swimming contest, foot of Main Street; prize, bathing suit.
  • 10:30 a.m. - Balloon ascension on Main Street in front of the Huntington Beach News.
  • 11 a.m. - Exercises at pavilion; orations by Ben F. Bledsoe of San Bernardino, H.S. Hadsall, secretary of Southern California Sugar Company. Music by Fullerton concert band.
  • 1 p.m. - Exhibition drill by I.O.O.F. (Independent Order of Odd Fellows) canton no. 18 of Santa Ana, Ocean and Main Street.
  • 1:30 p.m. - Foot races, Ocean Avenue; free-for-all 100 yard race, prize bathing suit; girls' race, prize pair of shoes; boys' race, prize suit of clothes; three-legged race, prize value of $2.50.
  • 2:30 p.m. - Automobile races on the beach.
  • 3 p.m. - Tug-of-war on the beach, Westminster vs. Huntington Beach; prize box of cigars.
  • 3:20 p.m. - Saddle horse race on the beach; prize lap robe.
  • 3:25 p.m. - Slow mule race on the beach; prize whip.
  • 3:30 p.m. - Chariot race, on Orange Avenue, Ballory vs. Bailey.
  • 4 p.m. - Launch race, Jigger vs. Peanut.
  • 4:30 - 5:30 p.m. - Concert by Columbia band of Santa Ana, at the pavilion.
  • 8 p.m. - Dance at pavilion.  Music by Bannse orchestra.
  • 8:30 p.m. - Magnificent display of fireworks on the pier.  Music by Huntington Beach band.
ABOVE: The bandstand near the pier, as it looked circa 1917. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)

   By the 1930s, the City continued the fireworks show over the Pacific Ocean to provide a safer viewing experience.  However, there was a little hitch now and then, as Harry "Cap" Sheue recalled (the Huntington Beach High School stadium off Main Street is named after this favorite coach).

"Magnificent bedlam": Harry "Cap" Sheue recalls a memorable July 4 fireworks show. (Public Ceremony in Private Culture, Debra Gold Hansen and Mary P. Ryan, from Postsuburban California: The Transformation of Orange County Since World War II, University of California Press, 1991)

   The City's July 4 committee recalls another exciting feature of Huntington Beach's  celebrations from that same time period, "In the late 1930s, the city’s first lifeguard and fire chief, Delbert “Bud” Higgins had a trick that no one has since imitated."

   "He would don a firesuit, cover his face with petroleum jelly, soak himself with alcohol, light a match and dive in a fiery ball from a 50-foot platform high above the pier into the water below."  

(Editor's note: Do not attempt, this will get you locked up in the hoosegow today.)

Left: Delbert "Bud" Higgins--the City's first lifeguard and fire chief--enjoying his later years as a local celebrity with bathing beauties near the Huntington Beach pier, circa 1940. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach archives)
   By the 1960s, authors Debra Gold Hansen and Mary P. Ryan report the Huntington Beach July 4 parade was described in local news reports as "easily the most pretentious and grandiose celebration unleashed anywhere in Orange County."  Thank you, we own it.  

   Happy July 4th!   

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