‘Twas The Nineteenth Of April In (18)75 — And The Centennial Was Coming Unstuck

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At the conclusion of Curtis’ oration, invited guests and ticket holders from the general public moved to the huge dinner tent nearby where places for four thousand had been set on Saturday. The cold dinner did little to warm up the thoroughly chilled celebrants, yet Judge Hoar held their attention for the next three hours of sentiments and responses. Concord could not have chosen a better host for its Centennial celebration.

“I offer as the first regular sentiment of the day,” said Hoar, “the 19 of April, 1775: A glorious day for Lexington and Concord, for the towns of Middlesex, for Massachusetts, for America, for freedom, and the rights of mankind. ‘Every blow struck for liberty among men since the 19th of April 1775 nas but echoed the guns of that eventful morning.’ ”

“First of those who fell, in our memory of the day we celebrate,” he continued, “are the martyrs on Lexington Common. Their deeds, their immortal fame, are now being worthily celebrated by their neighbors and descendents at Lexington. I give you:—The martyrs on Lexington Common: Parker, Monroe, Hadley, the Harringtons, Muzzey, Brown.…

“Fellow citizens, no one from Lexington can be found here today to respond to this sentiment, as I suppose no one from Concord could be found at Lexington to acknowledge any courtesies extended to us. So be it. The legacy of glory will go round, and is enough for all. But I thought it fitting to send, and have sent, in your name, a message to Lexington from Concord, to this effect:—‘Concord sends greetings to Lexington on the hundredth anniversary of the glorious morning, by the hands of the President of the United States. The Great Republic, whose thirtyseven states span the continent from ocean to ocean, is the harvest of which the seed was sown on the igth of April, 1775’ …”

The American Band of Providence J. played appropriate music between each set of sentiments and responses until finally the increasing cold forced the ceremonies to close.

Long before noon the wind settled into the northeast and picked up speed. Low clouds scudded over the town, leaving behind a dusting of snow. General Gage was roundly damned by all for ordering his troops to Concord so early in the season one hundred years past. The fifty thousand or more visitors for whom there was no room in the tents were truly in distress. They had seen the procession pass, but that was all the entertainment they were offered. Nearly every place serving food was devastated before two o’clock. Nearly every visitor went hungry.

Even the Middlesex Hotel, in the center of the town, proved unequal to the demands placed upon it. Concord was a shire town in those days with an active courthouse. Lawyers, litigants, their supporters, and their opponents all found neutral ground in the bar and dining room of the Middlesex Hotel. The hotel proprietor therefore knew how to handle large numbers of people, had made his preparations well, and greeted the beginning of the Centennial with confidence.

Late Sunday afternoon, however, his confidence received a severe blow. In the midst of his best business in years his bar was closed for the day by order of the selectmen. On Monday he wisely limited the services of his dining room to those who could produce “boarder’s tickets” and called upon the police to keep out the others. Despite these precautions, a starving and half-frozen mob took the hotel pantry by frontal assault, held it briefly, and was then tossed out by the hard-working defenders.

The crowning blow of the day to the Middlesex Hotel came a little later. The selectmen closed the bar again, providing the indignant proprietor with ample leisure to watch bootleggers doing a land-office business in the street outside.

Concord had marked its historic spots with signs during the week before the Centennial. They had received more visitors during this Monday than they had had during all of the years since they first became historic. As the cold air soaked relentlessly through their bodies, visitors turned their attention away from such attractions as old tombstones toward their own survival. Before six o’clock most of them had taken’the railroad cars back to civilization, food, and warmth. They were more fortunate than those who had chosen or were forced to spend the day in Lexington, some hundred thousand persons in all. There the single-track Middlesex Central line was at a standstill. Hardly a vehicle was moving on the streets. Earl Percy’s cannon could not have cleared the way to Boston that night. And the dining tent, where 3,500 guests were to be fed, was a shambles; police officers had been unable to stop hungry hordes from storming the place before it was officially opened to ticket holders at three o’clock, by which time there was hardly anything fit to eat. As the Boston Evening Transcript reported: “The only thing that was warm at the centennial dinner in Lexington was the ice cream.”