By Thea Skinner
Triplicate staff writer
Crescent City enjoys a rich history of Fourth of July festivities dating back 154 years.
The first celebration of Fourth of July in town occurred during 1853.
Still, an event in 1855, perhaps carries the deepest significance in festivities.
On June 24 of that year, a fire destroyed the Steamship America and stranded 132 soldiers of the 21st U.S. Infantry.
After delivering mail to the city and unloading a few passengers, the steamship America's side-wheel began burning while the vessel was anchored.
Smoke bellowed from the ship. Every attempt was made to stop the fire, and the boat was run into shallow water about 150 yards offshore.
Residents used buckets, ropes and ladders to fight the fire, but the America burned.
While in transit to San Francisco for rebuilding, the hulk of the America broke loose and sank mid-ocean.
Fittingly, America's cannons were salvaged from the wreck and moved to Battery Point.
The 1855 festivities began with the firing of the cannons on Battery Point followed by a parade.
At the park, a salute of 13 guns was fired at sunrise under the direction of Capt. Thos. R. Lawson. The 13 guns also were fired at sunset.
During the same year a lantern was fixed on a pole at Battery Point in place of the lighthouse.
A procession including the stranded soldiers marched through the city under with the command of Maj. Henry Prince, accompanies by the Crescent Hook and Ladder Co. and local military companies.
It traveled down E Street to Front Street, down Front Street, through J Street, up the beach to Battery Point, and to the Ball Park.
W.A. Hamilton was grand marshal and J.J. Arrington and F.E. Weston were the assistants. The Declaration of Independence was read by J.B. Roseborough and the invocation was delivered by Jno. J. Hayness.
The selection of grand marshal typically is an honor bestowed on community members who have participated in good deeds.
The grand marshal usually has a list of accomplishments and associations.
One such grand marshal was Sam Lopez, a member of the How-on-quet Tribe of Smith River. He celebrated his 86th birthday in 1972, the same year of his service to the city.
Barbara Mann, a nurse at Seaside Hospital, was the grand marshal for the 1981 Fourth of July parade. She was a counselor for Future Nurses Association at Del Norte High School and a member of the Emergency Department Nurses Association.
Grand marshal and businessman Andrew Tomasini was grand marshal in 1985. A transplanted Italian, he arrived in California on March 15, 1911. His Fort Dick Tavern business was opened in 1930. At that time, Prohibition was law and the establishment was an ice cream and sandwich shop. In 1933 he obtained his liquor license, which became the oldest held in the county.
"His granddaughter owns Tomasini (a present establishment) downtown," said Brian O'Callaghan of the Del Norte Historical Society. "The bar in there was from the tavern."
The main feature of Crescent City's Fourth of July festivities usually showcases Class B explosives. Class B is one level below dynamite.
Round explosives are called shells and have no military function. The multi-colored display may take 24 minutes to use $3,000 worth of ammo. A pyrotechnics license is required to perform the duty.
Pyrotechnics also found in local stores and firework stands have entertained residents for years.
Modern laws prevent the use of fireworks such as Blackcats, Roman Candles, and Bottle Rockets used in the earlier decades of the 1900s.
Fireworks used in the neighbor's yard now may include Giant Silver Screamers, Devil's Delights and Peacock Fountains.
The parade of floats in the downtown area was another staple of festivities.
In 1961, a small rodeo was held at the Del Norte Roping Arena on Northcrest Drive.
Holiday concessions operated on the beach at the end of H street. Food items normally included Chinese potstickers, Italian sausage sandwiches, clam chowder, shrimp, doughboys, tostadas, corn on the cob and Pronto Pups.
Dessert treats traditionally included cotton candy, blueberry and whipped cream covered Mooncraters, snowcones and ice cream bars.
As celebrations grew through the years, the event began to draw people from outside of Del Norte County. Last year, about 20,000 people visited Crescent City for the Fourth of July festivities.
Past Independence Day Festivities' Highlights
July 7, 1846: Commodore John Drake Slot proclaimed California part of the
July 5, 1853: Thomas C. McNamara enlisted as second lieutenant of the
Volunteer Company of Klamath County, which became Del Norte County.
June 22, 1929: Mrs. Ralph W. Bull, Arcata, whose suggested name for
Hiouchi, a Native American word meaning blue or high clear waters, was
adopted in a contest, dedicated the Hiouchi bridge.
July 4, 1961: Mrs. Ruth Roberts, president of Del Norte Historical Society,
formally dedicated the Brother Jonathan Memorial Park in Crescent City.
SOURCE: Del Norte Historical Society