June 16 , 2014
In his autobiography, Always the Young Strangers, Carl Sandburg described three kinds of parades he witnessed as a youth.
The first parade of which he wrote occurred in October, 1884. It was a Republican rally during the campaign for president between James G. Blaine and Grover Cleveland. Members of the local Republican party marched during the evening carrying lighted torches and chanting Blaine's name. They marched north on Seminary Street and turned west on Main Street to the Public Square.
August Sandburg told his son that James G. Blaine was a Republican and Grover Cleveland was a Democrat and they were competing to be the most important leader in the country. The Republicans were sure Blaine would be victorious. A few weeks later, Grover Cleveland was elected to the presidency.
Former Civil War general and president Ulysses S. Grant died in July, 1885. The people of Galesburg arranged their own funeral procession to honor his memory. Stores, factories, foundries and the railroad closed for the afternoon. The parade began at the Q. depot on South Seminary Street and turned onto Main Street to the Public Square. The sidewalks were completely filled with people desiring to observe the procession. Carl, at age seven and a half, sat on his father's shoulders in order to see.
The parade marshal on a horse with silver trappings lead the long line of marchers. He was followed by uniformed Galesburg policemen and public officials dressed in black suits marching four abreast. Members of the Grand Army of the Republic, who were veterans of the Union Army, walked beside a long black box on a black car pulled by eight black horses. It represented the coffin of General Grant.
Each division of the parade was led by a musical group: a fife and drum corps, the Galesburg Marine Band and the Negro Silver Cornet Band. The music played was slow and sad. There were several cannons pulled by horses. A flag-bearer brought the parade to an end. It was said the parade was the longest ever seen in Galesburg.
On happier occasions, circus parades moved from the Q. depot to the fairgrounds on East Main Street. There were bands, some wagons containing wild animals and others carrying circus performers, appealing to the observers to come to the show under the big tent. Young Carl Sandburg was sure to be on hand for the circus parades if he wasn't working at some menial job.
The origin of parades probably goes back to the mists of time. Public processions were part of military celebrations which demonstrated a leader's power. Then, they became associated with fairs and festivals. Today we can enjoy parades on patriotic holidays. We can watch holiday parades on television from across the nation. We can watch Olympic parades from around the world. And, every four years, we can watch an Inaugural Parade conducted in Washington, D.C., which includes thousands of participants from across the land.