Our 19th Century (Victorian) American ancestors celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in many ways that mirror current / modern observations. The ‘holiday’ has morphed a bit, too, as is to be expected over a 150 to 100 year time span.
Across the country–East to West, large cities to small villages–St. Patty’s tended to include (but not always) the following:
- Wearing of the Green
- Green Food? (Yes? In the Victorian Era?)
- Solemn High Mass
- Speeches (including Archbishops)
- Recitations, Poetry
- Musical Performances
- Irish Jig Dancer Performances
- Parades (bands, militias, various groups)
- The United Sons of Erin (Benevolent Society)
- Knights of St. Patrick
- Evening Fete
- Electric Illumination of a High Wire Performance
- Baseball games
- Piloted Balloon Ascension
- Picnicking and Restaurants
- Evening Grand Banquets
- Grand Ball (or dance) [in large cities like St. Louis, often many competing balls]
In 1879, various larger cities across the United States observed the special day, and The Daily Commonwealth of Topeka, Kansas, reported the highlights on 18 March, 1879:
Read on as I share a few historical highlights of this Irish-American celebration among our Victorian American Ancestors–
WEARING OF THE GREEN
“Wearing of the Green” was covered by the Galveston Daily News, of Galveston, Texas, on 18 March, 1896:
…Roger Byrne of Smithville read a letter from Ireland and exhibited a bit of shamrock with the “auld sod” clinging to it, which he received from the emerald isle yesterday. It was the first genuine shamrock and Irish soil many of them had seen for years, and more than one of those who beheld the precious fragment of dirt and withered clover leaves were affected to tears.
An article titled “St. Patrick’s Day With Southern Accent” appeared in The Laredo Times, Laredo, Texas on 16 August, 1898. (Why in August, rather than in March, I can’t say. Hmmmm….)
SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP)–
The magnolias glow and even the grits are green today as much of south Georgia pays tribute to the Land of Blarney.
…..“Some places even scramble eggs that are green. Can you imagine eating that at 6 o’clock in the morning?” said Harry Deal, chairman of Savannah’s St. Patrick’s day parade committee.
…..This port city boasts that it is the second-largest St. Patrick’s day celebration in the country….
…..We expect 100,000 spectators. Every hotel and motel room available from Hilton Head, S.C. to at least 50 miles south, easy, is filled up,” said Deal.
…..The Savannah st. Pat’s parade is the longest in the world… features 249 units, including 29 bands, marching on streets lined with blooming magnolias and azaleas….
…..St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah begins with the traditional breakfast of green grits and Irish whiskey …
…..…“The spirit is all green,” he said in a telephone interview Friday night. “Everybody turns Irish.”
…..“Everybody — black, white, Jews, everybody — joins together for one cause — to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah,” Deal said.
…..“This is the place to be in the United States of America on March 17th.”
SOLEMN HIGH MASS
“At all the Catholic churches solemn high mass was celebrated, and appropriate sermons were delivered. The congregations were unusually large, and services very impressive and interesting.” [Source: The Saint Paul Globe, St. Paul, Minnesota. 18 March, 1895.]
“St. Patrick still lives, his teachings still continue. From that little island some missionaries were sent into Scotland and England and even Europe, and it still preserves its faith to-day though other churches have passed away. Antioch, Smyrna, Ephesus all have gone because ruin seized upon them, but in Ireland persecution and oppression has not eradicated that faith and the church founded by St. Patrick has met nothing that could prevail against it. The result of this endurance is that the seed sown fell on good ground. The Celtic mind opened and received it. For once at least the gospel found green soil. never elsewhere did it spread so rapidly. fifty years after scarcely a trace of pagan Ireland remained…”
[Source: Archbishop Riordan’s Address detailed in The San Francisco Call. 18 March, 1894.]
Love and respect for one’s roots and “Old Country” finds special meaning in the freedom and sunlight and freedom of worship in the United States.
“St. Patrick’s day is as dear to the Irishman as the Fourth of July is to the American, for,upon this day of days in the history of Ireland, the Irishman, in being an American citizen, feels that he is both an Irishman and an American, and it is a matter of fact that both the Irish and American flags are as conspicuous in the famous processions as are the well known tunes of “Marching Through Georgia” and the “Wearing of the Green.” [Source: The Lowell Sun, Lowell, Massachusetts, 17 March, 1894]
WHEN PATRIOTISM, RELIGION, AND HEARTS UNITE…
This brief account was reported in the Fort Scott Daily Monitor of Fort Scott, Kansas, on 18 March, 1881. Something about the choice of where to spend the money and how to most honor freedom and religion and countrymen warmed me clear through.
NOT MUCH INTEREST
“Chicago, March 17.–Yellow and green ribbons in the button holes indicated that to-day was an Irish holiday, but beyond this token and the celebration in St. Patrick’s church of high mass, there was no evidence that the usually lively and hilarious St. Patrick’s Day has arrived. The societies are barred from parading by the abominable condition of the streets, and also by their qualification to use the money which could be so expended in aiding the suffering and strengthening the bonds of their countrymen over the Atlantic in obtaining what they consider their rights as against oppression of landlords. The Irish citizens here have sent considerable sums of money, and it is understood that more is ready to go forward for that purpose.”
St. Patrick’s Day Dances could be a BIG deal in the remote areas of the country where social events (especially during the winter months) were few and far between out of weather considerations. Check out the offering for this event, mentioned in the Great Falls Weekly Tribune:
“$2 of 1890 dollars would be worth: $52.63 in 2015″ [inflation calculator]
NOT an inexpensive outing!
A St. Patrick’s Day Grand Ball announcement was made in The Deming Headlight, Deming, New Mexico on 25 February, 1893:
Hurra for St. Patrick’s Day Grand Ball will be given March 17, 1893, under the auspices of the Deming Grand Orchestra of 8 pieces. Admission $1.50 per couple. Committees will be announced later. [source: Newspapers.com]
“$1.50 of 1890 dollars would be worth: $39.47 in 2015″ [inflation calculator]
NOT an inexpensive outing, even at 3/4 the price. But our forebears did love dancing. These social get-togethers were a huge draw, especially in the less-populated areas.
SIGNIFICANT DISPLAYS IN LARGE CITIES
San Francisco sported an enormous celebration (the proportions of which are hard to imagine in the Victorian-era pre-“big earthquake” [of 1906] city). Fireworks. Electrically lit-up buildings with decorative light shows. Playing of an electric fountain. Prismatic Beauty. “Ordinary pyrotechnics” were somehow made more elaborate, specifically for the St. Patrick’s day celebration. Even a high wire performer, Jean Wi-man (cannot decipher last name), surrounded by fiery whirlwinds and walking into a lake of fire– no wonder he startled his spectators. And then a huge searchlight! In 1894!
This Evening Fete (immediately above, was but a small snippet of the coverage of San Francisco’s enormous celebrations of 1894. The event was so large that the coverage in their local newspapers took literally entire pages to pay proper tribute.
Interestingly enough, the entrance fee to the great park where much of the day’s celebrations were held was 25 cents–a drop from fifty cents as had been the rule in previous years (in an attempt to keep the unsavory type away and avoid trouble). The paper reports the lower fee brought in 100,000 celebrants and no trouble whatsoever.
[Note: the following 5 images aren’t meant to be readable–just an effort to illustrate how much room The San Francisco Call elected to use to cover the grand celebration. Every event (I suppose) was covered well, and every word of Archbishop Riordan’s speech was recounted.]
Believe it or not, The Anaconda Standard of Anaconda, Montana, dated 19 March, 1901, was a lengthy article, outlining every word of a speech given, the day’s many festivities, and the celebrations surrounding “The Irish Citizens of Butte”. The article is so lengthy it would tire even the most dedicated of historians. With the source you can find it if you wish– but know it gave every word of Father Barry’s address, details of the parade and which officers served on the committees, glorious details of the high holy mass, city decorations, even the weather. I’d guess the Irish Citizens of Butte (and all of Montana) felt duly acknowledged.
Leavenworth, Kansas, in their newspaper, The Leavenworth Weekly Times, on 24 March, 1881, likewise presented a lengthy (even longer, I daresay) than Anaconda, Montana’s. The same newspaper article was released in the same newspaper one week previous on 18 March, 1881. Both articles reference that “St. Patrick’s had been given a fine day yesterday”. Interesting, don’t you think, that an identical article ran twice, one week apart? If I included this lengthy article it would take TWENTY-THREE “parts” (as you’ve seen me drop a column of newsprint in segments, many times before). LONG address. All the same types of celebration events. Maybe not as up-town as San Francisco’s in 1884, but in 1881, Leavenworth did their Irish Community proud.
In striking contrast– other parts of the nation, such as Ball, Arizona in the Weekly Journal-Miner, of Prescott, Arizona (22 March, 1893) shows in brief what mattered most:
Tickets for the St. Patrick’s day celebration (Ball, AZ) may be had for 25 cents. Significantly more affordable than other events referenced at the beginning of this article.
“$0.25 of 1893 dollars would be worth: $6.58 in 2015″ [inflation calculator]
Wherein one newspaper article (written by a Victorian Investigative Reporter) turns up shocking realities behind two different Marriage Marts–the second of which the reporter cites as more than just a nuisance, “…a wholesale procuring establishment—an assignation house of the lowest kind; a place where libertines could make the acquaintance of women of less morality…ruination of a pure, innocent girl. No crime is blacker, no punishment too great for the criminals.“
Articles about Victorian Observation of Holidays:
May Day Oddities in the Victorian United States Victorian America and Easter Eggs Victorian Americans and Mardi Gras Victorian Americans Observed Groundhog Day? Victorian Letters to Santa Victorian America Celebrates Halloween Victorian Americans Celebrate Oktoberfest Victorian America Celebrates Labor Day Pioneer Day: Utah’s Victorian History Victorian America Celebrates Independence Day Victorian America Observes Flag Day Victorian America Observes Memorial Day Victorian America Observes Mother’s Day–on Sweet Americana Sweethearts Victorian America Celebrates Arbor Day Victorian America Celebrates Easter Victorian America & April Fool’s Day–on Sweet Americana Sweethearts Victorian Leap Year Traditions, Part 1 Victorian Leap-Year Traditions, Part 2 Leap Into Love– The Victorian Way: Sweet Americana Sweethearts Victorian Era Valentine’s Day Victorian New Year Celebrations, on Sweet Americana Sweethearts A Victorian Menu for New Year’s Day, 1892 American Victorian Era Christmas Celebrations Victorian Era Thanksgiving Celebrations Happy Birthday, United States!
Articles in the Nineteenth Century Mail-Order Bride SCAMS Series:
Nineteenth Century Mail-Order Bride SCAMS, Part 1 Nineteenth Century Mail-Order Bride SCAMS, Part 2 Nineteenth Century Mail-Order Bride SCAMS, Part 3 Nineteenth Century Mail-Order Bride SCAMS, Part 4 Nineteenth Century Mail-Order Bride SCAMS, Part 5 Nineteenth Century Mail-Order Bride SCAMS, Part 6 Nineteenth Century Mail-Order Bride SCAMS, Part 7 Nineteenth Century Mail-Order Bride SCAMS, Part 8 Nineteenth Century Mail-Order Bride SCAMS, Part 9 Nineteenth Century Mail-Order Bride SCAMS, Part 10 Nineteenth Century Mail-Order Bride SCAMS, Part 11 Nineteenth Century Mail-Order Bride SCAMS, Part 12
Copyright © 2016 Kristin Holt, LC