Parades and Pageants: Newark Marches to the Beat of History

History and Landscape
Published December 4, 1997

Parades and Pageants: Newark Marches to the Beat of History

| Published December 4, 1997

The 312th Infantry Parade on April 27, 1918, during World War I, included women, the Girls Behind the Men Behind the Guns. The Newark Public Library

Since Newark's early days, the city has been home to scores of historic parades, pageants, celebrations, orations and spectacles. At this time of year, one that comes to mind occurred on November 22, 1776, when Gen. George Washington led a tired band of 3,500 soldiers down Broad Street during his retreat from Lord Cornwallis.

Unfortunately, this first parade was anything but a happy occasion for the little army. By July 4, 1788, however, the British had been defeated, the Americans had won the war. This time, Broad Street was the site of a happy celebration. At sunrise, 12 cannons sounded a salute, one for each year of American independence, and at Branford Place, 10 cannon salutes acknowledged the 10 states that had ratified the Constitution. After a battle enactment, 10 toasts were offered to the federal, state and local government, to the men who fought in the recent war, to the memory of fallen heroes, to the farmers and 'mechanicks' of Newark, and that the 'Constitution would last until days come an eternal pause, and the sun and moon shall be no more.'

In 1836, just after the incorporation of the city of Newark from the old township form of government, Newark's first mayor, William Halsey, and the common council issued the city's first Fourth of July Proclamation. In September 1854, a peaceful celebration turned sour when a group of 3,000 marchers, visiting from 25 out-of-town Protestant lodges, suddenly attacked local bystanders and demolished the German Catholic Church, leaving Thomas McCarthy dead on Market Street. On July 4, 1863, a patriotic celebration was being held in the old Central Methodist Church on Market Street when the program was interrupted by news from Gettysburg that Newark's Fighting 13th, the Eighth, and the Second New Jersey Infantry had helped turn the tide against Robert E. Lee. A jubilant audience sprang to its feet, breaking into song with 'Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.' On May 17, 1866, Newark honored its own 200th birthday anniversary with a huge Broad Street parade and a lengthy service at Old First Church. Mayor Thomas Peddie closed all public offices that day, and ordered that 100 flags should fly in honor of the Newark bicentennial.

Typical Fourth of July celebrations early in this century were held along Broad Street and in Military Park. The Broad Street parade usually ran the length of the city's main north-south thoroughfare and included speeches at the old City Hall and the honoring of Newark's remaining Civil War veterans. The high point was the fireworks display, which took place on the old canal bridge at the current site of Raymond Boulevard and Broad Street. The southern end of Military Park was reserved for a pyrotechnical display with large screens bearing the image of Washington, Lincoln and other war heroes. From the canal bridge a bevy of rockets, bees, serpents, dragons and small fiery beasts released pillars of red, blue, green and purple firepower over an adoring crowd of onlookers.

Newark's most elaborate historical celebration took place in 1916 to commemorate the city's quarter of a millennium. Mayor Jacob Haussling appointed a Committee of One Hundred in 1915, including Newark resident and former Gov. Franklin Murphy and its famous librarian, John Cotton Dana, to run the event. On May 1, cannon volleys marked the opening event, and church bells pealed at the inaugural ceremonies at Proctor's Theatre. For the next six months athletic contests, baby parades, concerts, poetry, and poster contests engaged the interest of Newarkers of every age, interest and background. The highlight of the six-month celebration was a historical pageant that included a cast of 4,000 who performed on the lake at Weequahic Park. Classical pylons built along Broad Street, construction of the new Robert Treat Hotel, and the massive Public Service Electric and Gas Co. at Military Park were visual evidences that a new Newark had indeed been born.

In 1936 and again in 1986, Newark took time to observe its 100th and 150th incorporation dates. Newark's celebration of its 300-year history in 1966 was probably the most important single event to happen here since its 250th birthday party in 1916. Like its predecessor, the planning and the series of events essentially took an entire year. The event got rolling when Milford A. Vieser, president of the Greater Newark Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Hugh J. Addonizio and Council President Ralph A. Villani created a committee that included Frederick H. Groel as president and Paul Busse as executive chairman. Busse left shortly to take a position in Manhattan, and was replaced by Paul D. Loser, an executive with New Jersey Bell. The event was co-sponsored by the city of Newark and the Newark business community and wide participation was solicited from every known local agency as well as from individuals. Continental House, the old Symington House on Park Place, was selected for the 300th anniversary headquarters. The events were capped on May 18 by a parade from Lincoln to Washington parks, led by Grand Marshal George Haney and watched by a quarter to a half million spectators, a great public meeting at the recently renovated Newark Symphony Hall, and a reception, dinner and ball at the Robert Treat Hotel in which the lord mayor of Newark, England, and high state and city officials participated. In addition to all these activities, there were many lesser but no less meaningful events. These included art exhibitions at the National Newark and Essex Bank and the Howard Savings Institution, and very elaborate historical exhibitions curated at the Newark Museum and the Newark Public Library. A celebratory sports dinner was held at the Military Park Hotel and was sponsored by P. Ballantine and Sons for sports figures, a junior olympics was held for 600 Newark youth, and a three-day golf show in Military Park attracted the participation of Bobby Nichols, Ken Venturi and Billy and Johnny Farrell. Additionally, Wiss Manufacturing sponsored the development of the 'Newark Rose, ' which was planted at the base of the Kennedy statue in Military Park, and a Newark 300th anniversary flag was designed. Postage meters in most business concerns were metered to read that they had 'Pride in Newark, ' and a series of publications were written in honor of the event. John T. Cunningham wrote the popular history 'Newark,' and students at Essex County Catholic High School produced 'Newark 300' under the supervision of Thomas Murray. The Frontiers Club of Newark held a birthday breakfast and honored Milford Vieser of Mutual Benefit for his efforts in leading the salute to Newark's tercentenary.