Since I was a child, I recall Newburyport always celebrated many of the holidays that we enjoyed as children – two of which were always prominent. The largest celebrations to my knowledge were for Christmas and the 4th of July.
As I recall, 4th of July was very well celebrated in comparison to other cities and towns around the area. All the surrounding towns and cities celebrated these holidays, but there certainly was an air of abundance when the people of Newburyport celebrated the 4th. I think this occurred because of their great historical past combined with their feelings of pride for Newburyport’s many accomplishments.
As children, we always enjoyed the celebration of the 4th. To me, it seems it was a much larger celebration then than that of today – or maybe, it was just exaggerated in my own imagination as a young child. It was celebrated in various ways by various people. Some of the old-timers, whose families were early settlers in Newburyport, had good stories to tell people. We would all go to listen.
One of those very interesting individuals, who kept us in awe and listening with our eyes wide open, was Mr. Jacques. Every 4th of July he came to Market Square in Newburyport to tell his stories. He would set up a platform and a display of fireworks which on Middle Street approximately where the Grog Restaurant is located today. Mr. Jacques appeared to me to be an older person. As I recall, he was of medium stature and he had a moustache. He always wore a tweed suit coat and a cap. I believe he may have come from the South End of the city.
Mr. Jacques would give very interesting speeches of the glory of Newburyport’s past. He used no microphone or megaphone to publicly tell his stories; he used only his loud, strong voice….and crowds would gather round.
Mr. Jacques also had with him his fascinating display stand of fireworks, mainly firecrackers that he would use during the height of the 4th of July celebration. And, during the day he would also sell his goods to the many passersby.
Each year, it was always the same man with the same stand and his wonderful stories of the past. However, the last time he appeared was on a July 3rd. It was customary that on the day before the 4th he would set up his platform and display stand of fireworks in preparation for the next day’s big events. And, as always, when finished setting up his display, he would later go home.
That particular night someone ignited his display and burned it down. After that incident, he never again appeared to tell us his stories of Newburyport’s past. I never knew what happened to him.
There were other individuals in Newburyport who celebrated in their own curious ways. For example, children were often known to toss firecrackers into neighbors’ yards at any time of the day or night throughout Newburyport. It was a common occurrence to hear the startling sound of firecrackers going off in the streets and in front yards and back yards throughout various neighborhoods. The noise was actually very startling and scary at times.
However, as I noticed, Newburyporters found it very difficult back then to break from established habits. Every 4th of July we routinely expected to hear the sounds of firecrackers going off in our yards or surrounding neighborhoods all day long…..and so they did.
Additionally, prior to the arrival of plumbing as we know it in Newburyport, every home and building had to have an outhouse. The outhouse was either attached to the building or it sat a few feet away from the main building. Years later, when plumbing arrived (and the Grover Plumbing Co. on Inn Street, as I recall, did a fine job installing plumbing throughout the city) the outhouses were not destroyed or removed.
Even when plumbing was fully established, Newburyporters still did not part with their outhouses. It seemed they had become attached to them even though they now had first class plumbing. Curious uses were found for the outhouses - many of which became tool sheds and storage sheds of sorts or they were simply abandoned in the back yard. Many a mischievous prankster or over-zealous teenager would go to an extreme by “assisting” in the removal or destruction of people’s outhouses.
During one particular 4th of July, a small group of overzealous young men decided to provide their assistance in the total removal of an outhouse located on the upper part of State Street out by the circle. There were a few large four and six family homes up there; some of the larger homes had up to six-seat outhouses which of course were no longer being used. Unbeknownst to the homeowners, on the night of a 4th of July celebration, the young men placed ignited fire crackers inside the seats, sending the outhouse flying eight feet straight up into the air. A sight to behold!
Rumor has it, when that outhouse went sailing up into the air, the culprits were so stunned themselves that they ran as fast as they could back to the North End from where they’d come, and never looked back.
Oh, yes! Newburyport excelled in its 4th of July celebrations of the past more so and in more unique ways than in any other city or town that I know of in the area.
Enjoy the 4th of July!
John Lagoulis, now in his 94th year, is a columnist for the Daily News who writes about life in Newburyport the way he lived it during the early 1900’s. John has authored two Volumes titled, Newburyport: As I Lived It! The Trials & Tribulations of a Young Wharf Rat during the Early 1900’s in Massachusetts ~ a legacy ~, which are available in local bookshops. He can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.NewburyportWharfRat.com