The Great Booster Parade – A Small Town Promotes Themselves
Six months ago, I started a personal challenge to write and publish something every week for a year. Since that time, I have learned a lot about a great many things. I chose as my primary subject the place where I was raised; a small town in the central part of Iowa, called Dysart. Through reading countless newspaper articles and books and a trip to the local museum, I have had a chance to imagine what Dysart must have looked, felt and smelled like in those early days before there was electricity and modern plumbing and streets. I've grown in my appreciation for the fact that nothing truly worth having comes along by accident. It takes dreams that are followed by careful planning and hard work. In the case of a community, it takes the dogged dedication of a group of people who will themselves to make it work. I've learned that my teenage belief that nothing interesting ever happened in a small town like mine was a lie. I've remembered a lot of people who I had known and forgotten about, both living and dead. I've reconnected with folks I once knew and have enjoyed hearing other people's memories which are different than my own. Memories have filled my days and the pages I have written.
Nothing I have read about or written so far has created more longing within me to have a time machine than what happened in Dysart in the weeks before and after July 4, 1914. I wish I could have been a part of it all. In that short period of time this tiny town of 1,000 people accomplished amazing things, became the object of ridicule for people across the state, and emerged with the strength to continue to work together to build up their town. Dysart has long hosted one of the largest and finest July Fourth celebrations in the area. Today, as the people of Dysart work hard to once again offer a great opportunity for Fourth of July fun and fellowship, allow me to tell you about a packed few days of community spirit 108 years ago.
In the spring of 1914, the businessmen of Dysart formed a Commercial Club. These types of organizations were being formed throughout the country to promote the growth and development of towns and cities. The group that formed in Dysart grew quickly and within a few weeks their membership was up over 70. Not bad for a town of less than 1000. The group went straight to work funding and overseeing improvements which would bring both businesses and new residents to the area. Although the community had hosted July 4th events in the past, this one would be bigger. The celebration would coincide with a newly acquired week- long Chautauqua. In early June, the club members decided to take their message about the upcoming events on the road.
In the Dysart Reporter of June 18, 1914, the details of this road trip were announced, and an open invitation was extended to anyone wishing to participate. The date of the road trip was only one week later, on June 25. One week with no social media to help spread the word; just the newspaper and word of mouth.
Everyone was invited to bring an automobile if they had one and pack a lunch for a planned stop in a "grove where it will be pleasant to eat." Those not possessing a automobile of their own were encouraged to see C.L. Wareham at his store or Charles Vaubel or Lee Aldrich at the Dysart Reporter. Drivers were promised that the outing would not cost them anything as the occupants of the car would pay the running expense. Drivers were also told there would be mechanics in the group but that each driver should bring his own accessories. On a weekly basis, the owners of newly purchased cars had been listed in local papers and one must believe that many of these men were anxious to join the parade and show off their purchases. The local band was engaged to join the procession.
On the morning of Thursday, June 25, 1914, at 7:30 a.m. a total of 29 cars lined up on Main Street with the goal of "by the time Traer is properly awakened we will be there to distribute our advertising matter and the M.B.A. band will play a few pieces that will make them feel good the rest of the day." By the time the cars were assembled into a parade formation there was a total of about 150 men and women. The first car out of town was carrying the officers of the Commercial Club followed by the car carrying the M.B.A. band and then the participating drivers whose order had been selected by lots.
I can picture them now as they head west out of Dysart. Everyone dressed in their Sunday best, crammed into their open aired cars. The men are wearing hats but have allowed themselves the luxury of rolling up their sleeves in the hot June sun. Some of these men have purchased riding outfits specifically for motoring as was popular at the time. The young women are laughing and chattering. They are likely calling out to the cars ahead and behind of them. Everyone is excited to see how the day will go. Perhaps the band is already playing, or they are singing popular songs from that day. It has only been recently that private ownership of cars has been made possible and an extended road trip is probably a novelty to most. The newspaper articles report that they found mostly good roads but in 1914, that means dirt or gravel roads and with the small wheels the cars have the ride is bumpy.
The group made a number of stops in the following order: Traer to Clutier, where Mr. Jensen broke a spring and apparently had to quit the parade. Then on to Elberon and Keystone. At noon they stopped in a grove near Keystone and at the invitation of the owner occupied the yard for a picnic ground. Finally, friends who had been settled into different vehicles had a chance to get out and visit and have some fun together. From there they went to Van Horne and then Vinton. While in Vinton a storm blew up but it was over quickly. They then went to Garrison, La Porte and then back to Dysart. At each stop along the way it was said that the townspeople gave them a hearty welcome. The band played, flyers were distributed and visiting with the locals was initiated. Dave Wilson and John Christiansen gave speeches at each stop along the way. They "extended a cordial invitation to our sister cities to spend the Fourth with us and also to attend the Chautauqua which opens on that date."
The Vinton Eagle described the visit this way:
"Vinton was serenaded in royal style last Friday by the Dysart Boosters - men and women - 150 strong. They arrived in the middle of the afternoon in twenty-nine autos. They were accompanied by the local band which discoursed sweet music for fully half an hour. The 'tourists' mingled with the businessmen of the city and made their mission known. This was also made known in an eloquent address by John Christiansen....The mission of the Boosters was to advertise the fact that there is to be a great Fourth of July celebration at Dysart to which everybody is invited...Mr. Christiansen said they expect 3,000 people from Vinton during the week (of Chautauqua) so it is up to the Vinton people to justify Mr. Christiansen's expectations. There is no question, but a large crowd will go to Dysart on the Fourth to witness the game of ball between the Vinton Cinders and the Hiteman team."
I love this story. I can see myself in it and as I have said wish I could go back in time and live the day with them. It reminds me that when I lived in a small town, I experienced a sense of community that has not happened to me living in a city. It reminds me of happy days from my teenage years riding in cars and buses to music competitions, sports tournaments and school trips or just around town; singing and laughing with sweet friends. It also makes me remember how wonderful it is to drive around the Dysart countryside on dirt and paved roads and to soak up the colors and sounds of summer; to see the wide-open sky; and inhale the open-air smells. I wonder if other former Dysartites have the same feeling that I have always had, that you can leave the town, but the town does not leave you.
News articles state that two photographers were among the traveler and in the weeks after the 25th, postcards were advertised as for sale at Wareham's store. If anyone has any of these postcards, they would be willing to share, please contact me. I'd love to share them with my readers.
Stay tuned for next week's post when I will share with you the tremendous turnout this trip produced and the dramatic event that happened in Dysart on July 4, 1914.
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Thanks for your blog, nice to read. Do not stop.
Thank you, Mark.