Independence Day 1907


July 4, 1907, Audubon, Iowa. The only family portrait of all of the M.S. Goff family. Back: Jennings (11), Georgia (13), Merl (15), Leora (16), Wayne (14), Rolla (almost 9). Front: Ruby (almost 7), Milton Sheridan “Sherd” (about 42), Perry (almost 4), Clarence (almost 2), Laura (about 39 and pregnant with Virgil), Willis (5).

What a familiar picture this was to me as a child, Sherd and Laura Goff and all ten children who survived into adulthood.

But it wasn’t until my grandmother, Leora (the dark-haired oldest daughter in the back row) died and left her handwritten memoirs that I learned the story behind the picture. Her memories even lured my sister and me to pay a visit to the county-seat town of Audubon.

“We always had a big celebration of the 4th of July,” Leora wrote. “Nearly every town or burg had something doing. We used to get up at daybreak, get our work done—farm chores, and get ready to go to town by a team with a wagon or buggy. We would be in time to see the big parade and stay ’til the fireworks, generally, and then do farm chores when we got home. We were all tired but glad to have a big day.

“The 4th of July when I was 16 years old,” that would have been in 1907, “we eight older ones, Merl, Wayne, Georgia, Jennings, Rolla, Ruby, Willis, and I took the team and wagon with the feed for the horses, and our father and mother and the two youngest, Perry and Clarence, went in a one-horse buggy and had our basket dinner with them.”

While the citizens of Audubon were awakened that morning by firecrackers and the boom of the old cannon–”saluting the forty-five states comprising our great republic,” according to The Audubon Republican newspaper, the Goffs were feeding their livestock and cleaning up, Ma probably frying chicken and packing the picnic basket. While the older boys were helping Pa hitch up the horses, the older girls would have helped the four younger ones button suspenders and high-top shoes.

Driving the eight miles over dirt roads from near Melville #2 country school, across the Nishnabotna River to Audubon, the family made it in time for the parade. They would have made arrangements for the horses, joining probably dozens of horses and wagons and buggies.

The old newspaper said that the Audubon Martial Band met the train, which had steamed and chuffed to the station from the south, along Market Street, which is now Highway 71. Off stepped families with their dinner baskets, members of the Atlantic Cornet Band, and the day’s orator, Senator Shirley Gillilland of Glenwood, a handsome young man pictured with a large mustache.

From the 1897 Galbraith’s railway mail service map of Iowa. Library of Congress.

Audubon City Park

Driving up Broadway Street from the depot with my sister, it was easy to imagine the parade, led by the bands from Audubon and Atlantic, marching up the hill to the city park at the top. What a perfect route for a parade! We could imagine it lined by men in suits, women in long-sleeved, high-necked dresses that brushed the ground, children of all ages. The crowd followed and gathered around the stand in the park, the paper said, with “no buildings around to interfere.”

At 9:45 the Atlantic Band gave a concert of “a high class of music.” A chorus sang patriotic music an hour later, a reverend offered a prayer, and a school boy recited Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech.

Then, in a strong voice and with a commanding personality, Senator Gillilland made a forty-minute address that held the attention of the crowd “circumspect in character and conduct,” with the only criticism, the paper said, that the speech was too short.

Picnicking  began at noon. Afterwards the men would have checked on the horses, and the youngsters and older folks probably napped on old quilts.

Their Only Family Picture

“While we were eating our dinner,” wrote Leora at least seventy years later, “the folks thought of having a family picture taken while we were all together. Pa was the only one of the men or boys who had a tie on, and Rolla wanted to go barefoot as he claimed his shoes hurt his feet. I expect they did as he went barefoot most always. So we went to the picture studio for the picture and Rolla’s bare feet showed in the picture. It was the only family picture we ever had taken of us all.”

Her mother Laura was pregnant then with Virgil Cleon, who would only live one year. In the picture, Laura is wearing her wedding ring on her middle finger, just as she did as an elderly woman.

Sports contests began at 1:30—races (even one for fat men of at least 210 pounds), shot put, tug of war, sack race, pole vault, wheel barrow race, a drill team, and a baseball game between Audubon and Dedham on the grounds near the electric light plant. (Audubon won 7-1.) There were cash prizes but no Goffs were named among the winners.

Although the sun was hot and the mercury ran up to 95 degrees in the government thermometer, there was a delightful breeze in that hilltop park, which is still a lovely park today.

Well into her eighties or early nineties, Leora Goff Wilson remembered, “The day ended with a rain shower in the late p.m. There were no paved roads so we came home in the mud. Ruby wore white shoes [they don’t look white in the photo] and she got them muddy, but all seemed happy anyway.”

Is there any wonder that this old photograph, taken Independence Day 1907, is one of my earthly treasures? And the story behind it made for a very pleasant day trip to the county seat town of Audubon, Iowa, including visiting their famous Albert the Bull and the Plow in the Oak.

First published in The Des Moines Register, July 4, 1997.

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    • It was fun to find the newspaper clippings about it too. My own mother got in on that, and my sister made the trip to Audubon to check out where the band got of the train and marched up the street!

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