Some 4th of July Stuff
By Vern Colby
June 29, 1982
This photograph was taken at North Beach in 1900.
(Photo courtesy Tuck Memorial Museum)
Hey! We hope you don't gulp and palpitate, and concoct a choleric, censuring letter to rush to our editor with claims that this title, "Some Fourth of July Stuff", and tie-in to the venerable Tuck Memorial Museum, constitute heresy, libel, and such irreverence as hiccupping during solemn Sunday service. We mean no offense to better taste than our own.
But along with the glory and grandeur of the backdrop of Independence Day -- there are the roughness and readiness of the frontier spirit, the smack and innards' tickle of mountain dew or moonshine "likker", wild spirits celebrating FREEDOM! in ways that are unrestrained. Fourth of July has it's inspiration, and The Grand And Glorious Fourth also has it's Independence. If you put all characteristics and happenings and traditions of the Fourth of July in one poke, you'll have such a bagful of different things that "stuff" is a mighty fine word in our title.
Back a century and more ago -- likely much, much more a number of Portsmouth people were plenty put out when they weren’t permitted to shoot fireworks from the Athenaeum roof out over the -center of town on The Fourth -- even though there was commonsense concern for results as bad as The Fire of London.
The other day when we decided to try to search out some happenings on July 4th at Hampton Beach through the years, it was natural enough to contact John Holman, Curator, Tuck Memorial Museum in Hampton -- a valuable repository for much of the past of town and beach. We scanned some copies held in their record of town paper and its associated beach paper going back perhaps fifty years -- and also borrowed some postcards and pics after making sacred vows for safe return.
Recently, beach people have been complaining about our string of rainy weekends, and it’s been an unfortunate sequence that we hope will soon pass - but on July 4, 1933 there was a spectacular storm with enormous breakers and an 11-foot tide. The weather was cold -- but still a large crowd gathered -- to see the ocean’s might, to watch the Coast Guard working on capsized boats, to observe waves lapping at the edge of the newly constructed boulevard. Fireworks were delayed until tide retreated far enough for the set- pieces of the display to be set in sand at a safe distance.
That was the year that non-intoxicating 3.2% beer had been legalized by Congress, and many folks felt that its availability at the beach was the reason that July 4,1933 was quietest and most orderly celebration ever. There were no car accidents, no more than one arrest for drunkenness, no one was turned from dance hall entrance because of rowdiness or inebriation. Apparently, on the holidays before '33, many had obtained stronger beers or other bootleg beverages.
Fourth of July 1934 saw blue skies and abundant sunshine, and "thousands of machines" were reported at Hampton Beach. People were beginning to reflect the hope for better days that Franklin Roosevelt was pumping into the country. So at Hampton Beach, shopkeepers, realtors, and summer rentals people reported great enthusiasm for the future of the beach.
Reports for such postwar years as '43-’49, begin to show our rapidly changing times. Those July 4th reports start to speak of "huge" crowds on the three-day weekends -- over 250,000 reported, and the fact that factories were generally beginning to close for the whole week. When a power failure occurred, repair was long delayed because traffic jams kept repair trucks from easy access.
Those years saw all guest accommodations filled to overflowing -- so people slept anywhere they could including the beach. And there were the attractions of fireworks, band concerts, midnight dancing ... and folks came to Hampton Beach from Canada and every state for those celebrations ... and, of course, the boys were home from the war, the world was free, and business was booming.
Things such as the above, the facts and the spirit of Yesterdays, are what you can find at the Tuck Memorial Museum -- Meeting House Green Memorial and Historical Association, 40 Park Avenue, Hampton. for the maintenance of the Tuck Memorial Museum, a Craft and Fair Day will be held here and on the surrounding grounds on July 17th with a rain-date of July 24th. Only handcrafted items will be offered for sale, and you are urged to attend.
The Tuck and its grounds, and its restored District School of the 1850’s is a treasure house of town and beach history over several centuries. From July 1 through August, it’s open seven days each week from 1-4 p.m., staffed by volunteer aides; Coordinator of Volunteers is Cindy Maxwell - and it is open by appointment through the year.
To us, this museum and others in hundreds of towns across the nation, are like welcoming, well-kept attics stuffed with artifacts and stories of our people’s past. Some may call such materials "trivia", which is the word of the moment. But we prefer "stuff". "The stuff that dreams are made of", or, if you prefer, "The stuff of heroes and heroines." So we hope we have justified, finally, "Some Fourth of July Stuff". If not, we’ll try no more ... Fourth of July approaches, and we are truly sorry if we have upset any of you.