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San Leandro Fourth of July, 120 years ago

You would recognize the parades and fireworks, but perhaps not the “horribles” and the fruit-decorated wagons that once were standard fare for Independence Day celebrations more than a century ago.

This San Leandro Historical Society column is about a Fourth of July celebration in San Leandro 120 years ago.

The 1892 San Leandro Independence Day celebration was typical of late 19th and early 20th century festivities, but stands out as a grand affair that would be remembered, as well as revived in many of its elements in the cherry carnivals that began in 1909. Neither Oakland nor Alameda held any celebration that year, so no doubt the new Oakland, San Leandro, and Haywards Electric Railway, which opened the Oakland-Hayward route in May 1892, brought residents from all over the East Bay to expand San Leandro’s festivities.

“Like a sweet lassie preparing for a ball, San Leandro began to glisten and smile and fascinate on Saturday so as to be all ready for her celebration on the Fourth,” notes the newspaper in the flowery language of late the 19th century.

The day began with a parade led by Grand Marshall H. F. Eber, “in a glory of feather and sash and prancing palfrey.” He was followed by George and Martha Washington, portrayed by Alfred Baumberger and Bertie Driver. Then came two floats carrying 48 young women. On the first float, Lottie Best, daughter of San Leandro’s agricultural manufacturing entrepreneur Daniel Best, represented the Goddess of Liberty, while the other young ladies on her float represented states east of the Mississippi. Winnie Eber, daughter of Mayor Fred Eber, was Miss California and the star of the second float, which represented the states west of the Mississippi.

The parade included two local bands and many decorated wagon floats pulled by teams of horses. Floats featured local businesses such as the Best Agricultural Works, N. L. Hansen’s Hay & Grain, and Bayer’s German Bakery. The Bavarian Brewery float was filled with bottles of beer, but the newspaper neglects to mention whether the beer was handed out to the parade watchers. The newspaper reporter does note that saloons, hotels, restaurants, and ice cream parlors did a good business that day.

Many floats were decorated with produce – fruits, flowers, and vegetables – grown on San Leandro farms. John Henry Begier led wagons filled with cherries while pushing the wheelbarrow that had carried his first shipment of cherries to the train station. His marketing flair not only promoted San Leandro cherries, but symbolized San Leandro’s important connection by railway to far away markets. Begier's second float featured cherry pickers, "handsome young men" according to the newspaper, who "would attract attention anywhere."

A parade of  “horribles” was a traditional and popular part of 19th century parades, and this one was no exception. Men and boys dressed in comic or scary costumes marched by causing shrieks and laughter. The San Leandro Fire Department’s entries were the prize-winning  “horribles” favorites.

There were, of course, patriotic speeches, as well as two male quartets who entertained the crowd with songs. Ladies of the Presbyterian Church offered refreshments such as cherry pie.

The day ended with a grand ball at St. Joseph’s Hall and fireworks paid for by subscribers and San Leandro’s business community.

Material for this article came from San Leandro Cherry Festivals of the Past by Ilene Herman (available at the San Leandro Public Library), and the San Leandro Reporter of July 9, 1892. Photographs came from the San Leandro Historical Photograph and Document Collection at the San Leandro Public Library.

Find out more about the San Leandro Historical Society at www.sanleandrohistory.org

Sarah Nash July 02, 2012 at 05:15 AM
Thank you, Tom, for reaching back into the past of SL. I am particularly interested, being a resident on Begier Avenue!
Sarah Nash July 02, 2012 at 05:18 AM
My apologies, I should thank Cindy Simons for writing this article.
Larry Smith July 02, 2012 at 02:31 PM
I think in every one of us, there is a longing to get back to the simpler times that this article and photos presents to us. Well done and thanks for the great job you all are doing!
Tom Abate July 03, 2012 at 03:51 PM
Yes, thanks to Cindy for a whole series of articles like this. You can find some of those others in this archive: http://sanleandro.patch.com/topics/san-leandro-historical-society-time-capsule
Paul July 05, 2012 at 06:51 PM
It is sad that we no longer have any type of 4th of July celebration. The only event in town was put on by a car dealership. Many surrounding cities seem to be able to have one but not San Leandro. Our politicians can have a Cinco de Mayo event a MLK event but no 4th? Sad.

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