What's cool about the Stars & Stripes exhibit?

The Fourth of July became a federal holiday in 1870, just a few years before Hinsdale's incorporation.

Soon residents of the nascent village were staging their own festivities, like the 1875 celebration that "started at 5 a.m. with the booming of a cannon, no one tells who owned it or where it was located, and it was fired intermittently until 9 a.m. that morning," according to preserved records.

"Can you imagine right after the Civil War, you're sleeping and at 5 a.m. the entire village is awoken by artillery fire?" exclaimed Katharine Andrew, Hinsdale Historical Society director.

Athletic contests featured prominently on Independence Day, from inter-community baseball games to family-friendly competitions - with era-specific rewards at stake.

"For men in the 'Wheelbarrow and Pipe Race,' the first prize was a pipe and the second prize was a cigar holder," said Andrew, citing a program from the 1908 celebration.

These accounts and artifacts are among a trove of fascinating archival material featured in the historical society's online exhibit Stars & Stripes & Hinsdale at The program covers the period from Hinsdale's inception to the 1920s, revealing how the occasion evolved during those decades.

The nation's post-Civil War healing was marked by a surge in patriotism, and the summer holiday was a primary outlet. Speeches by local officials were a regular element, as was the annual reading of the Declaration of Independence in front of the old Hinsdale Club House on the southwest corner of First and Garfield streets. The parade would typically wind through the Robbins Subdivision as well as north of the tracks.

"There was a whole group of Potawatomi Native Americans that joined the parade one year," Andrew noted, referencing the tribe that once called this region home.

The raising of Old Glory by unchecked thrill-seekers, however, injected peril into the party.

"People got injured because they'd compete to see how far up on the flagpole they could climb. So they had to stop that," Andrew said.

And there was no village-organized fireworks display, so residents were left to detonate their own devices with predictable results. The local paper even listed the casualties in the aftermath.

The exhibit took several weeks to curate, Andrew said, by scouring through documents and oral histories. She was struck by how many accounts seemed reflective of a free-for-all.

"The most surprising thing was just how chaotic some of the memories were," she said. "It was really cool to see just how many people remembered their childhood Fourth of Julys."

Vintage photos show revelers at recognizable spots in the village's downtown.

"The buildings are still there, but behind horse-drawn carriages," she said.

Andrew, who for the parade's 2023 edition portrayed her distant ancestor Loie Fuller, will be at Immanuel Hall this year to introduce families to another reincarnated figure from Hinsdale's past: Nettie the donkey.

"I want to help people connect with the history and also make it a little entertaining."

- by Ken Knutson