During the last week of June and the first week of July in downtown Evansville, the community puts on its red, white, and blue and becomes a bastion of patriotism. Case in point: the Freedom Festival, an annual Independence Day celebration.
But patriotism and pride in America are not always reserved for mid-summer here in our fair city. Over the decades, there have been many parades and celebrations showing pride in our nation and in our own city. City cemeteries are repositories of many symbols of patriotic feelings. A large number of area Civil War veterans are buried in Locust Hill Cemetery, for instance.
Built in 1916 on Court Street in downtown Evansville, The Coliseum stands as a memorial to the patriotism of local citizens who paid for its construction with subscriptions and bonds beginning in 1913, according to The Evansville Story by James E. Morlock. It was built as a tribute to the Vanderburgh County men who had fought in the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, as explained in Evansville: Then & Now by Steve Mellon and Donald E. Baker. The 1917 dedication of the building ironically came just two days after the U.S. declared war on Germany during World War I, according to At the Bend in the River: The Story of Evansville by Kenneth P. McCutchan.
There were also parades down Evansville’s Main Street during times of war. Evansville at Two Hundred: 1812-2012 includes a photo of the Tri-State Fair of 1898 featuring soldiers parading down Main Street on their way to fight in the Spanish-American War.
Anti-German sentiment during World War I saw the discontinuation of the German language newspaper The Evansville Demokrat. Schools in Evansville also stopped teaching German, Morlock wrote. Since many Evansville residents at the time were of German descent, this was difficult for older residents who only spoke German, McCutchan added. Still, there were a number of parades and celebrations in the city during and between World War I and II. For example, one parade during WWI featured old military artillery. In 1943, Republic Aviation (its plant on U.S. 41 was later sold to Whirlpool Corp.) had a float during a parade that passed in front of Loew’s Theater and the Hotel Sonntag on Main Street, according to photographs in Willard Library’s archives.
Even during the very unpopular Vietnam War, local military personnel and dignitaries took part in the annual Armed Forces Day parades. The May 1970 parade drew some anti-war protestors on the sidelines but not enough to hinder the patriotic feelings of the majority watching in the Downtown circuit. Newspaper accounts of the incident say the protestors kept their cool as U.S. Gen. Lewis B. Hershey rode past the group at the National Guard Armory.
This year’s Freedom Festival parade probably won’t draw any protestors, but it will once again show the patriotic spirit of the residents of Evansville and their support for their country and its place in world history.
For more information on the Freedom Festival parade, visit www.hadishrinersfest.org.