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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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FOURTH OF JULY. The first celebration of July 4th was held in 1836. The officers of the day were Dr. Stephen LANGWORTHY, president; Patrick QUIGLEY, J. M. Harrison, Timothy MASON, William Carey JONES, vice-presidents; Samuel MAZZUCHELLI, chaplain; M. H. Prentice, reader; William W. Coriell, orator, with E. Lockwood and D. Gillilan, marshals. (1)

Following the marshals, everyone proceeded to the Catholic Church for a service and a reading of the Declaration of Independence. A dinner was held on the "green" followed by toasts. The toast of Judge King was, "Woman--were it not for woman our infancy would be without succor, our age without relief, our manhood without enjoyment, and Dubuque without an inhabitant." (2)

Celebrations of the nation's "birthday" in 1860 were a bit subdued as fears of a CIVIL WAR and, for some, the defeat of Stephen Douglas for president clouded the event. Fireworks were purchased as Ruxter's Confectionery on 118 Main. (3)

The DUBUQUE HERALD in 1890 predicted that lager beer in Dubuque would be popular along with every resort, grove or picnic spot. The "leading feature" was a celebration hosted by Lookout Post 70 and the DUBUQUE SHOOTING SOCIETY with Colonel Delos E. LYON reading the Declaration of Independence. Special trains were offered to those wishing to go to a picnic at TWIN SPRINGS and the Baptist Church was sponsoring an excursion on the "Russell Hinckler." (4)

In 1900 five different types of firecrackers were offered at "The Blue Store" at 1735-1741 Clay. A baseball game was started at 9:30 a.m. at Cox's Grove and at 11:30 the Hill Fire Department presented an exhibition along Alta Vista followed by a literary program and athletic events at 2:00 p.m. In noting that Mayor Berg would not permit anyone firing off large fireworks, the leading cigar stores promised a fireworks show in the evening. Vandalism tainted the celebration that year when someone blew up the pagoda in Washington Park. A $100 reward was offered for a reward leading to an arrest. (5)

A quiet celebration was noted by reports of the celebration in 1910. Hundreds visited UNION PARK while other attended an athletic program in the ballpark. (6)

Beginning in 1966 and continuing for about ten years, the task of setting off the mortars and other fireworks from the riverbank below the ZEBULON PIKE LOCK AND DAM belonged to Tom Menke. A drivers' education teacher at STEPHEN HEMPSTEAD HIGH SCHOOL, Menke recalled how he inherited his job.

                  My predecessor lit a mortar on an embankment. He tried
                  to run uphill, slipped, and slid down over the the
                  mortar, just clearing the thing when it went off. He
                  decided it might not be his calling. (7)

In addition to the ground display and the American flag display at the end of the show, he was responsible for the placement of all the mortars. They ranged from 9 to 19 inches in diameter. He then lit a full round for each mortar, cleared them after they fired, and then reloaded them for the next round. (8) Thousands of people witnessed the Fourth of July fireworks display from Eagle Point Park, carefully selected sites along the river, front porches along Rhomberg Avenue and the bluffs of East Dubuque.

The 2014 fireworks spectacular and air demonstration was dedicated to the men and women of our Armed Forces - the Army, the Navy, the Marines, the Air Force, the Coast Guard, National Guard, the Reserves, and "local" heroes - our firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and our police force. Special recognition was also given to members of local units who were called to active duty during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Members of these units were part of the Color Guard. During the Presentation of the Colors, the names of tri-staters who died during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were read. (9)



1. Oldt, Franklin T. The History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Western Historical Association, 1880. p. 373

2. Ibid.

3. Walkers, Steve. "If You Long for an Old Fashioned Fourth," Telegraph Herald, July 3, 1970, p. 15

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. McCormick, John. "He's the Man Who'll Light the Sky Here," Telegraph Herald, July 3, 1970, p. 6

8. Ibid.

9. "The 29th Annual Fireworks and Air Show Spectacular Thursday, July 3rd, 2014," Telegraph Herald