Editor’s note: Since Iowa’s Legislative session is currently over, Clarke County Historical Society has offered to provide columns while Rep. Joel Fry’s “The Fry Times” is on hiatus. The Osceola Sentinel-Tribune has named the historical society’s columns “Back in Time.” They are about “historical events/happenings of long ago.”
Six thousand people celebrated in Osceola on Saturday, July 3, 1880. By 10 o’clock the beautiful park was filled with patriotic people who were walking and talking to soul stirring airs that were wafted on the breeze from the instruments of the Coronet Band and the voices of the fifty singers who occupied seats on the stand.
At the appropriate hour, the vast assemblage was called to order and a fervent and patriotic prayer was delivered after which the Declaration of Independence was read. The orator of the day then delivered a masterly oration, one of the finest he ever made.
Short speeches were made after dinner. During the day attractions were thrown in not down on the program that furnished entertainment and amusement. The day up to dark passed off splendidly; not a disturbance; not an arrest; not a thing done or word spoken to mar the harmony of the occasion. In fact, so pleasantly had everything passed during the day that most of the crowd remained to witness the fireworks at night, of which there was a large quantity and a choice selection.
The stand from which the fireworks were to be discharged was erected against the flagpole, was 16 feet high, about 10 feet square on top. Early in the evening, the entire outfit was placed up there for convenience by the committee men in charge and carefully covered with a tarpaulin to protect them from flying sparks.
Upon this stand in charge of them were B. F. Garretson, Henry Stivers, J. B. Wells and J. N. Ballou. The management of them proceeded finely until about one-fourth were discharged when by some means a spark got under the tarpaulin and ignited the lot.
The people were gathered all around the stand – thousands of them – and such a stampede; over chairs, over benches, over each other; and over the fence and hitching chains. Those on the platform escaped as follows: Ballou, down the ladder and without injury, Stivers stood the fire until his pants were burned to the knees when he jumped aiming to clear the braces and light up on the ground, 16 feet distance, but his foot caught in the branches, which turned him over, causing him to fall heavily on his right side, bruising his face somewhat, spraining his wrist and bruising his whole side.
Wells climbed the flagpole 6 to 8 feet and sat on a cross bar nailed to it until the danger was over. Both his feet were burned before he left the platform.
Garretson fared worst of all; he seemed to have been struck with such force by the flames, burning powder, exploding torpedoes and rockets that he was thrown from the platform to the ground sixteen feet with more velocity than an ordinary fall or jump would have given him, which produced a concussion sufficient to paralyze his legs and some internal organs. With the best medical help he shall recover in a week or two.