Thursday, July 3, 2014

Cavendish 4th of July 1898: Horribles and callithumpians

Cavendish and Proctorsville's 1898 4th of July event offered "free red lemonade for all" and "music by the Cavendish Cornet Band, assisted by the Felchville Calthumpian Band and small boys with firecrackers.

There is an Old Home Day poster, from the early 1900s, at the Cavendish Historical Society Museum that describes how the parade will feature "horribles and calithumpians." We've wondered what these were. An article in the July 3, 2014 edition of the Burlington Free Press answers that question.

In the last quarter of the 19th century in Vermont, "horribles" parades were common on July 4th. They usually took place fairly early in the morning — and for good reason. These were parades in which common folk dressed up in outlandish costumes and made fun of the upper crust.

The "horribles" phenomenon originated in Boston "as a reaction to the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Boston's solemn Independence Day parades," wrote to Gail Wiese in the Vermont Historical Society's newsletter. "This company, a military organization limited to the social elite, provided a likely target for parody as a group of rich men playing soldier ..." "Ancient and Honorable" inspired the spoofy variant, "Antique and Horrible," which caught on across the countryside.

Another urban tradition — that of the "callithumpians" — also made its way to Vermont. To understand callithumpians, we have to make a brief detour to New York City or Philadelphia, where Christmas and New Year's were once a time for noisy antics:

"Mocking the genteel manner of the upper classes, revelers made social visits to the homes of the city elite, paraded to cacophy down the main streets and demanded attention in their outrageous costumes," wrote Penne L. Restad in "Christmas in America: A History" (1995). "During the 1820s, '30s and '40s, urban rowdies — young, male and usually poor — built on the general license of the season and began to cross the line from ritualized mayhem to anarchic melee. Mobs known as callithumpian bands roamed New York City, banging and blowing on homemade instruments, intent on creating mischief to match their noise."

While this holiday rowdiness was on its way out in the big cities after the 1860s as the middle class finally cracked down, according to Restad, so-called callithumpians were still running around on July 4 in Vermont a decade later. As Wiese puts it, they provided accompaniment for the horribles.

Woodstock's 1874 program began with a parade of the horribles at 10 a.m., featuring a "particularly pompous leader, Garrulous Goosequill" and an oration by "Hon. Demosthenes Cicero Blowpipe." That afternoon, the program promised, "A band without instruments will attend. The members of this band were captured in Siam and possess the art of making music peculiar to themselves by a process of their own."

The official program of Springfield's 1888 July 4th observance begins with "salute of 38 guns at sunrise, followed, at 8:30 a.m., by "Parade of Calithumpians, ending with speeches in the square."

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