We Love a Parade – 100 Years This July 2019 Part One Gayle Faulkner Kosalko June 2019

Whiting folk have always loved the 4th of July.  Going way back to the beginning of the 20th century, for many, America was their newly adopted home and this was its big celebration day.   But back in the 1890s, many Whiting folk celebrated the 4th not at home in Whiting but in La Porte, Indiana!  Remember, this is a time when one didn’t jump in one’s car and drive to La Porte.  It was a two hour trip by train.

The Lake Shore Depot even had a special train going to La Porte for the celebration.  Their 14 coaches were well filled. There were two special trains from Whiting alone to bring 2,000 people from our city to theirs.  The H.W. and E.C. Street railways had also lowered the fare from Hammond to Whiting to 5 cents to accommodate those Hammond people who desired to come aboard the train with Whiting people to La Porte.

Settled in 1832 (about 50 years earlier than Whiting), La Porte was a large successful and sophisticated city.  La Porte had a huge parade with floats covered in thousands of artificial flowers.  There were lots of young ladies in dainty costumes; the impressive parade was led by four marshals dressed in white uniforms on horseback.

La Porte Indiana parade circa 1914

In the afternoon there would be baseball games where Whiting fans cheered for their home team, the Whiting Grays, who were playing against various other home teams.  There was a balloon ascension, a parachute leap, a fiddlers contest, a Japanese juggling slack wire performance and trick bicycle riding to round out one’s day of entertainment in the “Maple City.”

But in a few short years, the movers and shakers of Whiting decided it was time the city came into its own for the 4th. 

In an article in 1901, it was reported that “there is an effort being made to get up a 4th of July celebration for Whiting. We think it would be a good thing and with a little effort a crowd can be secured and the money will stay here.” (As opposed to being spent in La Porte).  So a committee was formed, and Whiting created its own celebration that would last the entire day.  Why, they already had come up with $107 toward the cause…

A parade was put on by local organizations and businesses.  Leading the event was Hay’s Military Band. The Brick Masons, the Knights of the Maccabees, the Modern Woodmen, Catholic Order of Foresters, St. George’s Catholic Society, and the National Slovanic Society all marched.  A carriage representing Miss Freel’s millinery shop carried five young ladies bedecked with red, white and blue in the parade.

Seipp’s Brewery wagons came next loaded with their bottled beer, which was distributed along the way.     Standard’s tank wagon traveled down the route covered with bunting and flags.  And imagine a homemade float labeled “The Population of Whiting” which was filled with boys dressed to represent Irishmen, Negroes, Polish, German, and the Slavs!

The parade began at 9 A.M. at Town Hall, which was located on  Fischrupp Avenue, and marched down to Schrage to 121st to Front Street, then back to 119th Street, over to New York Avenue, and back to 119th, up Sheridan Avenue to 117th Street, then down Oliver to 119th Street, ending at the old ball ground. 

Here a large platform had been erected and as the crowd marched down from the parade “America” and “Hail Columbia” were sung followed by speeches. Next was held a 27 mile bicycle race with $25 as the prize.  The events of the day were held all over town.  Next was a vaudeville show at the corner of John St. and New York. Then the crowd went to Front St. and 119th where a greased pole was the chief attraction.  At the top had been placed a gold watch as an award for whoever reached the top.  And naturally a greased pig was let loose next.  The paper reported that “after several people had gotten a good quantity of grease on their clothes, W. Simons of Hammond captured the porker.”

Bringing Whiting’s Fourth to a close was dancing in Goebel’s Opera House and fireworks.

Now, this grand celebration did not take place every year.  It seemed to be more the work of businessmen and those of high standing in the community rather than being sponsored by the city itself at the turn of the century. 

In 1908, much was written about a 4th of July event that was all centered on Sheridan Avenue and put on by the citizens of Sheridan Avenue…..and it seems only FOR the citizens of Sheridan Avenue.

The residents built a grand stand and the neighbors started off the day with a bugle call and the singing of “Nearer My God to Thee.”

The day was filled with contests that were open to all qualified on Sheridan Avenue.  There was a One Mile Race, a Three-legged Race, a Fat Man’s Race, a Fat Ladies Race and a Lean Ladies Race.  There was an Irish Mail Race for boys ages 7 and under, and even a race only for Bald Men.

The editor of the Whiting Call was most impressed with Sheridan Avenue and used this headline to write about the celebration, “They call it the Midway now, Sheridan Avenue.” He wrote, “Sheridan ever quiet and beautiful did herself proud.” He congratulated the residents on their enterprise and their enthusiasm. 

“They are the kind of people who would boost a town, no matter what the drawbacks, and are live, up-to-date citizens,” he continued.  “If they could only inject their ambition into the veins of others, our city would certainly progress with a rapidity that would be surprising.  Their street celebration was a success. It seems to us that if the entire city would step to the front and show what combined efforts could do; when a few men on one street have shown convincing evidence what they can do, it would not be necessary for our people to leave town in order to find an amusement for holidays.”

And the very next year, 1909, the editor called out to his readers…. “Now that our streets are becoming pleasant and passable, we are going to be in line for band concerts, parades, celebration and such like things that will bring us together and fill us with pleasant memories of good times spent in others’ company.  Let come forth the spirit of unity and cooperation, each for the other’s good and the enjoyment of all.  Somebody get busy on a scheme for the glorious Fourth!”