This article was written by John L. Pierce and appeared in the newspaper on July 17, 1997. There was an editor's note at the beginning.
(Editor's note: The Chariton RABGRAI Hospitality Committee has suggested that Friday, July 18 become "Time Day" as area residents prepare for what may very well be the largest number of people ever to assemble in Lucas County. In keeping with the spirit of the day, the following article outlines some of the history of Lucas County as it pertains to large gatherings of people).
By John Pierce
With the coming of RAGBRAI and the tremendous throngs of people associated with it, one begins to wonder if this will be the largest crowd to assemble in one place in Lucas County.
Today's Early Years story looks back at some of the crowds of yesteryear. Most large crowds gathered because of entertainment or joyous concerts.
The Fourth of July has been met with much enthusiasm through the years. It is the longest running celebration in Lucas County.
In the 1850's and 1860's the Fourth of July was usually celebrated with a barrel of whiskey and firing of guns in the air. The more whiskey that was consumed, the more gunfire there was heard.
At least some of these celebrations included a horse race along the Chariton River. Later celebrations turned more to fireworks and carnivals. Fourth of July Celebrations probably peaked in the early 1940's.
An estimated 12,500 people celebrated in Chariton in 1940 Another 10,000 people witnessed an enlistment of 16 Chariton men into the Navy on July 4, 1942.
|Armistice Day Parade held on Nov. 14, 1918|
From the accompanying picture appears there were almost as many people in the parade as watching the parade.
Other occasions that brought hundreds or thousands of people together were Chautauqua's, revivals, GAR encampments, Farm Bureau picnics, county fairs, corn husking competition and sporting events.
Chautauqua's flourished in the first 20 years of the 20th century. Speakers from across the country gathered to lecture on a wide range of subjects. Chautauqua's were well planned and surrounded by much publicity.
Revivals were more spontaneous than Chautauqua's but equally well attended. A temporary building would be erected on an empty lot and the revival would last several days. Sadie Ansley of Russell remembers a revival held in an empty lot on the east side of the square toward the south end around 1910.
Grand Army of the Republic held encampments throughout the State of Iowa. Widely popular in the 1880's and 1890's, they faded away as the old Civil War veterans faded away. By the time the last encampment was held in Lucas County only 45 veterans registered. The year was 1921.
Two Presidential visits brought out the people. The first was in 1898 when President McKinley attracted a huge audience when he delivered his address.
The Spanish-American War had just been resolved and President McKinley was immensely popular.
Feelings ran so high that when McKinley was assassinated in New York in 1901, a local blacksmith was run out of town, threatened by gunfire and a rope. The unfortunate gentlemen had been overheard stating that he was glad McKinley was dead.
President Harry S. Truman drew a crowd estimated at 7,000 people at a whistle stop in Chariton. This was in September of 1948.
An early crowd that will be forever a part of Lucas County history was also the most violent crowd ever to assemble in Lucas County. This incident took place in July of 1870 shortly after Sheriff Gaylord Lyman was gunned down by Missouri horse thief Hiram Wilson.
Some local citizens wanted to hang Wilson as soon as he was caught, but cooler heads prevailed. Wilson was lodged in a second story room of the old brick courthouse. One resident of Chariton said the noise from the crowd outside the courthouse was like the wind blowing. The noise would come and go.
Bolstered by the inevitable keg of whiskey that was so abundant in those early days, the crowd broke down the courthouse door and lynched Hiram Wilson out of the second floor window.
On a tamer note fairs have drawn a big audience. Whether it was the 4-H Fair at Derby or the County Fair at Chariton. The first County Fair was in 1856 and was held on the Rogers farm just southeast of Chariton. These county fairs shouldn't be confused with the 4-H fairs held at Derby that were later moved to Chariton.
The county fair was held on Osceola Avenue in the west part of Chariton from 1866 to 1880. After 1880 the fair was moved to North of Curtis Avenue and west of Highway 14 until the fairground was sold in 1903.
Farm Bureau picnics that were held at the May Grove four miles east of Chariton were another occasion for people to get together.
On a more somber note, two funerals stand out for their large attendance. One was the funeral for Dayton Piper, brother of the late Bob Piper.
Dayton was a popular and well-known businessman of Chariton who collapsed and died while delivering the homecoming address of 1946. Between 2,700 and 2,800 people attended his funeral.
The other funeral was for the untimely death of John Bentley. The 36-year-old Bentley was on an adventure of a lifetime, the gold rush of 1898 at Nome, Alaska, when he was killed.
Bentley's father was A.T. Bentley, an early resident and longtime blacksmith of Chariton. Early newspaper accounts say the majority of Chariton residents met the train bearing the body of John Bentley.
There have been big crowds in other parts of the county as well. Russell's fall festivals have drawn tremendous crowds through the years. Derby, Williamson and Lucas have had their share of large crowds also.
Largest thus far
However, by far the biggest crowd to assemble in Lucas County for any reason appears to have happened on Aug 2, 1924. Estimates range from 20,000 to 30,000 people who paraded around the Chariton square and then rallied at Chandler Ball Park.
The occasion was a Ku Klux Klan rally. Klansman from all over Iowa, some in white hooded sheets, descended upon Lucas County. Freddie Chandler remembered being caught in a traffic jam while trying to get home.
Freddie, his brother Mickey, and their parents were in a buggy and were headed south on the old dump road to their home place. The Klansman were rallying at the Chandler Ball Park which was located west of the dump road and south of present Highway 34.
The Ku Klux Klan, while racial in origin, appears to have been more vigilante in nature in Iowa. The Klansman took it upon themselves to police elected officials and keep an eye on local affairs. The local chapter was strong enough that the old United Presbyterian Church on North Grand Street was purchased for a meeting place in 1924. Area headquarters were apparently located in St. Joseph, Mo.
Certainly not everybody belonged to the Ku Klux Klan and several people were vocal their opposition to it. Henry Gittinger, editor at the Chariton Newspapers, reported on the Klan activities but also poked much fun at the "Hooded Ghosts from Goblinville."
The Ku Klux Klan also held a rally at Chariton in 1922, but 1924 was the larger rally. Hope Gilrou recalls the later rally. She stated her dad wouldn't let her go uptown while the Klansman were here.
Osceola and Melcher were also strongholds of the Klan. The Ku Klux Klan was at its peak in popularity during the 1920's but by the 1930's very little trace remained.