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clown driving an antique car, july 4th parade.tif
By the 1870s, the Fourth of July was the most important secular holiday on the calendar. Congress passed a law making Independence Day a federal holiday on June 28, 1870. Even far-flung communities on the western frontier managed to congregate on Independence Day. In an American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 interview, Miss Nettie Spencer remembered the Fourth as the "big event of the year. Everyone in the countryside got together on that day for the only time in the year." She continued, ...."There would be floats in the morning and the one that got the [girls?] eye was the Goddess of Liberty. She was supposed to be the most wholesome and prettiest girl in the countryside ? if she wasn't she had friends who thought she was. But the rest of us weren't always in agreement on that?Following the float would be the Oregon Agricultural College cadets, and some kind of a band. Sometimes there would be political effigies.....Just before lunch - and we'd always hold lunch up for an hour - some Senator or lawyer would speak. These speeches always had one pattern. First the speaker would challenge England to a fight and berate the King and say that he was a skunk. This was known as twisting the lion's tail. Then the next theme was that any one could find freedom and liberty on our shores. The speaker would invite those who were heavy laden in other lands to come to us and find peace. The speeches were pretty fiery and by that time the men who drank got into fights and called each other Englishmen. In the afternoon we had what we called the 'plug uglies' ? funny floats and clowns who took off on the political subjects of the day?The Fourth was the day of the year that really counted then. Christmas wasn't much; a Church tree or something, but no one twisted the lion's tail."...."Rural Life in the 1870s,"..Portland, Oregon,..Walker Winslow, interviewer, December 15, 1938...American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers'