July 1992

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Blue Ribbons vs. Red

Fourth of July Events

Fishers, New York 1903


J. Sheldon Fisher

When the temperance movement got off to a good start in the 1870s, the Fishers and Valentown lodges put on plays, such as Ten Nights in a Barroom and Muskegan Nigger. They signed the famous Father Francis Murphy pledge, which read, "To abstain from all intoxicating liquors as a beverage and that I will by all honorable means, encourage others to abstain." Each signer wore a blue ribbon. In the spirit of fun the patrons of the Fishers Hotel saloon wore red ribbons. They challenged each other to ball games and other bits of rivalry.

One day the Red Ribbon Boys challenged their rivals to a match of human strength. The date was set for Saturday, July 4, 1903. The place was to be on the lawn in the rear of the hotel next to the livery stable. From the end of the stable to everybody's "Uncle" Johnny Hailey's barn was a high board fence plastered with circus posters to be seen from the passenger trains. It was like a field-day festival setting. Some of the boys who were non-members slept all night on the inside platform of the railroad water tower. Before daybreak they began shooting the cannon to announce the glorious Fourth. Charles Wiley had forged some two-inch-high rectangular rings to fit the top of some anvils. The rings were then filled with gunpowder brought from the nearby Rand Powder Mills. Other anvils were placed over the powder-filled rings and long fuses were attached. When they were shot off, the explosions were deafening. Gregory Hill told me that he and others placed the anvils too close to the railroad station and when the detonation came, it blasted out all of the windows on that side of the station. Through some unknown cause, a keg of powder blew up in Perry Flynn's face. He was badly burned, but did not lose his eyesight.

The various events for the tests of strength began after dinner next door to King Brownell's saw mill. Timbers of increasing sizes were lifted and carried. Ernest Barry lifted a heavy pitch-laden railroad tie and carried it a mile. No one else cared to duplicate the feat. King, one of the blue-ribbon boys, was a veteran of the Civil War who had a part of his side shot away by a cannon ball during a cavalry charge. Always with a good-sized notch in his side, he recovered very well and was back to his prewar hobby of demonstrating acts of strength. One act was rolling a 450 pound barrel of water up on his chest over his head and off his back. King Brownell has been called the "Samson of the Genesee" for his many unusual exhibitions of strength.

More fun than the demonstrations of strength was the event of the greased pig. William F. Fisher donated a well-greased pig to be awarded to the person who could catch and hang onto it. No one could do it! It was driven back home.

The shotput, or throwing a ten-pound cannon ball the farthest, had more takers, but it came out a tie between my father Almon P. Fisher, and Billy Flynn, both of whom were star baseball pitchers.

The next event was to see who could whirl the 200 pound anvil the farthest. A rope was attached around the anvil to get it off the ground and have something to hold onto for the swing. The first man up in line was Old Tom Morrisey. He took the rope in his teeth and whirled the anvil around with such velocity that when it was released it accidently demolished an outhouse with a man in it. Coupled with the loss of the railroad station's windows, Perry Flynn's accident, and the demolition of the necessary privy, the rest of the Fourth of July's features were cancelled.

1987, J. Sheldon Fisher

Reprinted by permission from The Groaning Tree and Other Stories.
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