Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Hazleton – 1899

On March 17, 1899, the residents of Hazleton poured out into the streets donned in green and ready for a party.

On a beautiful, sunny day, thousands traveled into the streets to see bands, marching members of the local militia, and much more.

As the Coal Region stood on the precipice of a new century, the Irish tradition of St. Patrick’s Day had begun a process of integration into American culture. The days of discrimination against the Irish were nearly gone; the direction of nativist rage turned against immigrants from Eastern Europe. Just eighteen months earlier, 19 mineworkers, immigrants from Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Germany, were gunned down just outside the city of Hazleton in Lattimer.

A local reporter for the Hazleton Plain Speaker covered the St. Patrick’s Day festivities in 1899, providing us a chance to look back on the celebration after more than a century.

ST. PATRICK’S DAY

Weather Conditions Favorable; Demonstration a Big Success

Parade Viewed By Thousands

Two Floats, Two Bands, Several Drum Corps and Many Societies Participate In the Celebration – Green Men In Line – Fine Drilling By the K. of F.M.  

Had St. Patrick himself sent in an order for weather on Thursday night, he could not have asked for better or more favorable conditions for the celebration of the day of which every true Irishman and his lineal descendants revere his memory, then yesterday. Old Sol smiled on the parade and every condition was such as to stir the ardor of the people, thousands of whom came to town during the day, strolled about on the streets, lined the sidewalks and either witnessed or participated in the demonstration.

Bad weather and muddy streets alone have been responsible for the alleged decay of enthusiasm on St. Patrick’s Day. With clean streets such as were traversed yesterday and with the sun’s rays illuminating all nature through a cloudless sky, the followers of St. Patrick come out in as large numbers and celebrated with as much vim and vigor yesterday as they did in the anthracite coal regions, and particularly Hazleton, many years ago. In those days they marched from one town to the other, though not with such quick step as they do today, but the change in the times did not carry with it a corresponding change in spirit.

On account of the indecision of several of the societies from surrounding towns, some of whose members expressed a desire to parade in this city and others of whom were anxious to parade at either Freeland or McAdoo, the arrangements for the celebration here were somewhat delayed; but the successful manner in which everything was carried out and the evident approbation of the people along the line attests to the ability of young men, who had charge of the parade, to creditably arrange for such an event.

The collieries being idle and the weather being all that could be desired, the city was crowded with people during the greater part of the day. The green of Ireland and the red, white and blue of the United States floated side by side and the shamrock, as of old, was conspicuously worn by many of the admirers and followers of the patron saint of that little island. Altogether the celebration this year partook more of its real nature than for some years.

The parade had been advertised to move at 2 o’clock, but it was about half an hour later before the line began to march forward. The procession moved down Wyoming street, east on Broad, countermarch on Broad, west on Broad to James, countermarch to Church, north on Church to Diamond Avenue, east on the Avenue to Wyoming and down Wyoming to St. Gabriel’s. All the spectacular features of an ideal St. Patrick’s Day parade were provided. The proverbial drum corps was there and furnished a variety of tunes, several bands were in line and served to maintain the enthusiasm. The total abstinence societies, whose members always turn out, marched with their customary precision. The Green Men, who participated in many St. Patrick’s Day parades in their time, were the center of attraction of hundreds of eyes as they rode along mounted on their steeds. The small boys, on whom someday will devolve the duty of properly celebrating the occasion, trudged along through dirt and mud wherever the leaders went and on the sidewalks stood thousands to whom St Patrick’s Day means as much as any of the important holidays on the calendar.

Several new and appreciable features were also witnessed in the parade the floats and the exceptionally clever drilling of the Father Matthew Drill Corps. The first float represented the Goddess of Liberty and the thirteen original states, handsome young ladies conveyed in a large ‘bus typifying in costume and manner the colonies which over a hundred years ago fought for and won their independence from England, the country which today still retains its grasp on Ireland by firmly refusing the Irish people the privilege of self-government. The other float represented the Daughter of Erin.

The drilling of the Father Matthew Drill Corps coder direction of Captain McGlory was by far the most attractive feature. Since their last appearance on Washington’s Birthday the young men comprising this organization have improved wonderfully in their work, which yesterday’s exhibition at various at various points along the route fully demonstrated. Every man in line marched with military step and the drilling was so neatly executed that applause was most generously bestowed wherever the tactics were displayed.

The music furnished. by the Liberty Band was what Hazletonians always have reason to expect – very good.

The Liberty was well up towards the front in the line and discoursed its best selections of stirring music. The Slavonian Band, under the leadership of Professor Griswald, also furnished excellent music, a decided improvement having been noticed in the work of this band since Mr. Griswald assumed the leadership. And while the drum corps were unable to touch anything in the line of classical music they held their own and served to remind the gray-haired Irishmen of the days in years gone by when the drum corps were generally the most important consideration of al.

A parade was conducted at McAdoo by the South Side societies yesterday morning and during the afternoon the North Side societies participated in a demonstration at Freeland.

An editorial comment reiterated a point made by the reporter in the St. Patrick’s Day dispatch to the Plain Speaker. In decades past, before St. Patrick’s Day became a mainstream celebration in Coal Region communities like Hazleton, rowdy parades and parties moved from town to town. They often led to violence and even murder. However, these parades were fondly remembered in 1899.

The celebration of St. Patrick’s Day was in every way a creditable one. Many of the old timers who formerly participated in the St. Patrick’s Day demonstrations are no more, but the ranks have been filled up by others among whom there remains today that same ardor in revering the name of St. Patrick as in the old stock of Irish citizens who paraded years ago, not only through the streets of Hazleton but from one town to the other in the entire region.


Featured Image: An 1860s image of a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Hazleton (Greater Hazleton Historical Society and Museum)

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